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Mark Magnier, "Party Letter Accuses China's Communists of Drift"

Party Letter Accuses China's Communists of Drift

The 17 Signatories, Ex-Officials and Academics Say Policies Make a
Mockery of Marxism

Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times

July 18, 2007, BEIJING — A rare open letter signed by 17 former top officials and
conservative Marxist scholars ahead of a key party meeting accuses
China's top leaders of steering the country in the wrong direction,
pandering to foreigners, betraying the workers' revolution and
jeopardizing social stability.

"We're going down an evil road," says the letter on the website
www.maoflag.net. "The whole country is at a most precarious time."

The challenge is unusual because of the importance of its signatories
and its timing before this fall's party congress, an event held every
five years and a key date on the political calendar.
Most public dissent in China generally comes from the beleaguered ranks
of human rights activists and minority religious groups seeking to
reduce the Communist Party's power. By contrast, those who affixed their
names to this document included former government ministers, a former
ambassador to Russia, ex-army officers and academics from elite
universities and think tanks. And their emphasis was on restoring party
control of an economy that has moved rapidly toward capitalist practices
in recent years.

The letter provides an unusual public view of ideological differences
within the party, which generally tries to present a unified front.

"This is probably the first time so many high-ranking people have spoken
out like this," said He Husheng, a professor of party history at
People's University. "The Central Committee is surely not happy at their

The policies advocated by those signing the letter include reversing a
law passed this year that allows private ownership of property,
abandoning rules that allow entrepreneurs to join the Communist Party,
imposing sharp restrictions on foreign investment, putting an end to
privatization of state assets and placing a renewed emphasis on Marxist
campaigns and education.

The party's focus on economic liberalization has led to a dangerous mix
of widespread corruption, unemployment, a growing wealth gap and
potential social unrest, the letter's authors argue.

If China continues down this path, the letter says, the country will
soon "have its own Boris Yeltsin" and "the demise of the party and
country would loom."

The signatories can expect a call from propaganda officials "strongly
suggesting" they delete their letter, said He, the party history
professor. If they don't agree, it will be deleted for them, he added.

Indeed, by Tuesday afternoon the website appeared to be blocked, with a
"Service Unavailable" notice displayed on the otherwise blank page, a
fate more often reserved for websites sponsored by human rights
activists than party stalwarts.

The seven-page letter appeared on the website late last week, about two
weeks after a key speech by President Hu Jintao that appeared to be
aimed at silencing critics within the party. The timing suggests that
significant differences remain as party leaders try to unify their ranks
behind Hu's policies, which have attempted to open up China's economy
while maintaining control of the political system.

"This shows that the disagreement within the party over reform is pretty
big and perhaps getting bigger," said Wang Yukai, a professor at the
National School of Administration in Beijing. "This kind of open letter
will put quite some pressure on our leaders and only have negative
effects on proper decisions."

The letter, addressed to Hu and the party's Central Committee, targets
in particular capitalists and foreigners who have flourished under
policies that the signatories say have eroded socialism, equality and

"Party secretaries have become capitalists, and capitalists have joined
the party," the letter says. "Foreign corporations are plundering
domestic markets and crushing our national economy." The signatories
also urged competitive internal elections for central party members and
the party secretary, a sign of the group's displeasure with Hu's leadership.

The views expressed in the letter speak to a constituency that has seen
its power diminish under China's ferocious economic growth, rapid social
change and growing diversity. The China Daily reported Tuesday that
almost 3 million of the party's 72.4 million members now work in private
business, up from almost none a few years ago.

In addition to facing dissent from conservatives over economic changes,
Hu has come under fire from liberals who have pushed for a more open
political system. Those views were aired in a cover story in the latest
issue of the liberal journal Yanhuang Chunqiu, which roughly translates
as History of the Chinese People. It argued that though China has
reformed economically, it continues to drag its heels on important
political reforms outlined by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in the
1980s. These include reducing the excessive power of the party and
ending its overarching grip on the government.

Some analysts denied that such articles were indications of ideological
differences in party ranks, arguing instead that the diversity of
opinion underscored changes afoot in China.

"This is not significant at all," said Liu Zhiguang, a professor at
Peking University's School of Marxism and Leninism. "This shows that
different opinions can coexist, or maybe that our leaders are just
becoming smarter."

Officially, China has no lobbyists, nor does its monopoly political
party consider lightly any outsiders who attempt to influence its
decisions. The Chinese Communist Party has traditionally handed down
policies fully formed, in keeping with its preferred image as an
all-knowing, unified, paternalistic organization.

As China has become a more diverse society, and the Internet has made
censorship harder, however, the leadership has been forced increasingly
to contend with, respond to and adapt to public opinion.

Experts said the 17 signatories had sought to influence top leaders
through internal party channels, but they were rebuffed and, in
frustration, decided to go public.

The letter by itself is unlikely to alter party ideology, which if
anything has become more rigid in recent years as a bulwark against
unsettling social change, they said. But it could intensify divisions.

"These guys want to turn back the clock, but that's impossible," said
Wang of the National School of Administration.

"I wouldn't say they're bad people. But we must move forward. Such
outdated opinions are a leftist tumor."

[Yin Lijin in The Los Angeles Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.]