Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open letter from Communist Party elders calling for reform should be heeded; censorship system is outdated

Last week a group of retired Communist Party elders and intellectuals spoke about the need for freedom of expression in China; this was not kid's stuff. Their open letter will have serious ramifications for the whole of Chinese society in years to come. It is one thing to have foreigners clamouring for more freedom on the mainland, but it is quite another to have local Chinese, in whatever capacity, openly speaking their minds.

Of course, their views and positions will not produce any tangible results in the short term, but they will lay long-term foundations among the young Chinese generation of the need for liberty, and these will be built upon.

China is developing fast, with impressive economic growth and equally impressive records of poverty reduction. Many sectors of Chinese society are richer than ever before, while others still languish in an age-old poverty. Overall, however, China is in much better shape than it has been for generations. It can afford to become a freer and more open country.

The letter, which was signed by 23 persons including academics and former executives of China's state-controlled media, demanded an end to censorship. Interestingly, the letter also referred to recent comments made by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, which were censored at home, that China's economic progress may be impeded if there is no reform in the political system. Censoring the prime minister was strange, as the action was unconstitutional. The signatures to the open letter took up this matter just to illustrate the absurdity of the Chinese Communist Party's censorship system. They asked the National People's Congress to get rid of censorship procedures in favour of a system of legal responsibility for items that are freely published.

China can afford to open the so-called democratic space within the country a little more. Already, artists are enjoying far greater freedom than 20 years ago. Pro-reform Chinese academics and intellectuals, however, are still lying low, fearing that outspoken criticism could lead to punishment.

Maintaining the policy of suppression that gives rise to these fears will be costly for China in the long rung. In the present climate, it is more important than ever that ordinary citizens be given the space to freely discuss any subject. Free discussion of ideas is crucial for China's future development.

History has shown that China produces intellectuals of high quality. There is no doubt that the open letter was linked the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. The letter however, wisely omitted mention of Liu, and instead focused on reflecting the real conditions within China.

As China continues to grow, it is important that its people are able to keep abreast of developments in their own fast-changing situation as well as that of the wider world. They need access to the "real picture" of what is going on inside China and outside across the globe - and that means a picture not altered by censorship.

It is unfortunate that the authorities quickly removed the letter, which was originally posted on the Internet. China is building a global news and information network of its own to compete with those in the rest of world. It will be tough for China to gain international creditability as a source of news and information if the media continues to be suppressed by a paranoid and draconian censorship machine run by the government.

Beijing's communist leaders know the power of information, and remain desperate to spin it the way they want. That strategy might be successful within the country, but not among the international community.

Freedom would not damage China's economic performance or break down the current political system. To the contrary, it will have a positive impact on China's image and international standing.

The Nation, Bangkok

1 comment:

  1. This is good because what these officials are calling for is for China to become a modern, capable civilization. The Chinese are among the most capable, competent people on the planet. If they can unleash themselves from anything that hobbles creativity and accomplishment, China will be a far better society as a result.