China’s capitalist leap forward

The China Post

Mainland China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, passed a controversial piece of legislation last week that would protect private wealth. The enactment of the so-called Property Law is the last nail in the coffin of communism, which has been dying a slow death since Deng Xiaoping spearheaded his reform and opening-up program in the late 1970s. The passage of this bill was not without opposition, as critics had argued that the law undermines the basic tenet of socialism by allowing private ownership. Leftists and Maoists threw up their arms with a warning that the fate and future of China has reached “the most dangerous moment.” Many attacked the law as “unconstitutional.” One of the most vocal critics, former National Statistics Bureau director Li Chengrui, said the law would legalize the theft of public property, when billions of dollars of state-owned properties are being gobbled up by corrupt officials in collaboration with greedy businessmen. But resistance to the passage of the law was futile when the mainland’s development has reached a point where private ownership has become a must. The country’s private sector now generates two-thirds of the US$2.6 trillion economy. The “middle class,” people in households with annual income of US$8,000 or more, is fast growing. By 2020, half of the mainland’s population would reach middle class status, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. After nearly three decades of reform and opening up, mainland China has crossed the Rubicon in its long march toward “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Mainland China today is no longer a dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a country that grants political rights to capitalists, as former President Jiang Zemin has advocated in his “three represents” theory.

The passage of the property law is a milestone in mainland China’s economic reform, which has brought prosperity to the erstwhile impoverished country. The law may sound embarrassing to the communist regime, because, according to communism, property should belong to the public and the state, not the private individual. But the emergence of the middle class calls for the protection of “lawfully-acquired property,” which has become indispensable in a society where the pursuit of wealth has become a national game.

Maoists called the law a great leap backward, and leftists deplored it as a betrayal of communism. While they are right in their criticism and denunciation, they are wrong in one thing — being blind to the fact that communism has become bankrupt. Nowhere in the world has it worked. You don’t have to look further than North Korea to see the difference. Today’s communist leaders in China are pragmatists, who believes in Deng Xiaoping’s “cat theory” of getting results rather than Mao Zedong’s egalitarianism of glorifying poverty on an equal footing. The merit of the law should be judged by the answer to a single question: Do the people want it? The answer is likely to be a resounding yes. But the mainland people may want more-free elections, free press and independent courts, for example. Clearly, the National People’s Congress is in no hurry to work on these political reforms, which are lagging far behind. These are the reforms that can best safeguard against the abuse of power by corrupt officials. So, after property reform, political reform must be on the agenda. Already, grassroots pressure for such reform is mounting. The rising middle class and increasingly well-educated people will demand political reforms that are now put on the back burner. If the past is an indication, we have reasons to be optimistic that such reforms will be carried out in another decade or two, if not sooner.