By Andreas Fulda.

In intellectual and political circles within China there is no shortage of complaints about the directionless and trapped nature of China’s political transition process. The recently concluded Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 18th Party Congress with its retrograde language and lack of a coherent vision of China’s political future is a case in the point. Political reform suggestions are not only articulated by anti-establishment intellectuals such as artist and activist Ai Weiwei or Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Both Ai and Liu have been among the initial 303 signatories of the Charter 08, which calls for the establishment of a legislative democracy and the protection of human rights in China.

In spring 2012 the renowned Chinese establishment intellectual Yu Jianrong posted a 10-year plan for China’s social and political reform on Weibo, China’s micro-blogging service. While signatories of the Charter 08 suffered from harassment and political prosecution, Yu Jianrong has been able to continue both his academic and political work uninterrupted. The different reception of both reform agendas can partly be explained by their choice of reform goals and means.

Yu Jianrong follows the footsteps of other prominent establishment intellectuals such as Yu Keping, Deputy Director of the Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Both men with the family name of Yu are working within the system (tizhi nei) and are advocating incremental political reforms. Just like Yu Keping, Yu Jianrong is frequently invited to speak at domestic seminars and trainings funded by the Chinese Communist Party. Signatories of the Charter 08, on the other hand, consider democratic reform a necessary condition for China’s development, thereby placing themselves outside the current political system (tizhi wai).

Yu Jianrong applies a developmental perspective that is based on the assumption that the incoming leadership under Xi Jinping is both willing and able to carry out social and political reforms. His perspective differs considerably from signatories of the Charter 08, which have lost faith in the CCP’s leadership. As such, the fundamental difference between Yu Jianrong’s plan and the Charter 08 is the question whether political reform can be brought about from within the CCP alone or whether such a transition requires societal impulses from outside the political system.

Yu Jianrong suggests a sequencing of reform steps that will lead to an open society with a free media and multi-party competition between the years 2016 and 2022. With this goal in mind Yu suggests that in its first term from 2012 until 2015 the new Chinese leadership should focus on social reforms, promote welfare policies and help protect people’s rights. During the first five years of the ten-year plan the new leadership is supposed to focus their attention to bread and butter issues such as welfare reform, more specifically in the areas of pensions, unemployment, and health insurance.

Yu also calls for a reform of the household registration system. Social reforms are to be accompanied by greater efforts to develop China’s rule of law. Yu suggests strengthening the judicial system on the provincial level, calls for lifetime tenure of better paid judges, and demands that politics and law committees below provincial levels should be abolished. In terms of the protection of citizen rights he calls for the abolishment of both the traditional petitioning system and the re-education through labour system. A more transparent Chinese government should ensure freedom of speech and freedom of expression as well as foster civil society development.

Yu’s ten-year plan is indicative of the central role reformers working within the system can play during transitional periods. Yu Jianrong adopts the reformist goals of the Charter 08 and re-packages it into a more procedural and watered down reform agenda. The fact that his Yu’s plan can be discussed both online and offline signifies a willingness among party-state officials to engage in open-ended discussions about democracy and human rights in China.

Read the full China Policy Institute Policy Paper “A Convergence of China’s political reform agendas”  for more detail.

Andreas Fulda is Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute and Lecturer at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham. He is also Programme Manager for the EU-China Civil Society Dialogue, a three year dialogue and delivery initiative supported by the European Commission and implemented by the University of Nottingham and its consortium partners.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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