February 11, 2009
By the end of 2008, the Dalai Lama-related diplomatic row between China and the EU, as well as a constant stream of dire news about the economic crisis have overshadowed the launch of a very important reform initiative from China. On December 10, a group of 303 intellectuals has published the Charta 08 on the internet – a document that could prove instrumental in the future political organisation of the Chinese society. After only a few weeks from publication, the Charta 08 has attracted the support of more than 6.600 citizens, some Chinese government officials included.
The Charta 08 starts off with a preamble stating that it has been written to commemorate the anniversary of 100 years since the adoption of the first Chinese Constitution, 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 30 years since the so-called “Wall protest”, dating back to Deng Xiaoping´s inauguration of the “open doors” reform policies. The preamble contains the views of its authors as to why constitutionalism and democracy could not take root in China in the past. Events such as peasant revolts, civil war, the Japanese occupation and the advent of communism are all cited as inhibiting factors.
The main objective of this group of intellectuals is to promote – by disseminating the Charta – a blueprint for a thorough reorganisation of Chinese society and the instauration there of a free, democratic and constitutional regime. The document firmly condemns all the crimes and excesses attributed to the Mao period in power, who is being held responsible for the tens of millions of victims it produced. At the same time, the authors deplore the fact that China, which has joined the ranks of the world´s first five economic juggernauts, remains the only un-democratic member of this group, one that regularly abuses human rights.
The most interesting part of the document is, however, the one detailing the writers´s reform initiatives. China´s federalisation is one of them. In their opinion, the state´s adoption of a federal administrative formula is the only path towards the successful integration of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as towards China´s peaceful reunification with Taiwan in the longer term.
The Charta´s authors argue in favour of the adoption of a truly democratic constitution, one that would guarantee private property, civil and political rights for all Chinese citizens. Just as important are deemed by them to be the introduction of free elections based on universal suffrage, and a system of government firmly based on the separation of powers principle. They also write about the need to introduce an adequate social protection system in China – in recognition of the fact that the communist society has long ceased to guarantee a minimum of living standards for all its citizens.
Without a doubt, the document´s launch has taken place in difficult economic circumstances. China, like all major industrial nations, is being confronted with falling growth rates and massive unemployment, leading to inevitable social turmoil. In the absence of a democratic institutional framework, however, the only option available to the Chinese authorities is the use of force to quell dissent. This situation is considered by the authors of the Charta 08 as highly detrimental to China´s current standing in world affairs.
In my opinion, previously expressed in commentaries and articles published by Business Week, ACUM or by “Athens´ Courier”, China is ripe for embracing democracy. When compared to other Asian nations, this Confucian nation seems to stand a better chance than any in this respect, Russia included. Therefore, I cannot but commend the 303 authors of Charta 08 for their audacity and to hope that this could become, in future, a blueprint for the reform of the Chinese society and its institutions.
(originally published in the Romanian language by Athens Courier on the 23rd of January, 2009, http://florianpantazi.blogspot.com)
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