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Editorial﹕Rule of law has to be strengthened

【明報專訊】CELEBRATING the 40th anniversary of Reform and Opening-up, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping has given a speech emphasising the need to broaden China's reform while adhering to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. China's reform and opening-up is a significant event in world history. It signals that China is finally on the path to modernisation after more than a hundred years of struggle. The awakening of the giant after a century's sleep has subverted the western-dominated world order and the dominant paradigm of development. Many western academics, eager to understand this "red swan" phenomenon, have conducted studies into the Chinese model. Over the past four decades, China has achieved brilliant results in the modernisation of such areas as industries and technologies. But obviously, efforts in establishing the rule of law are still inadequate. To help China become a modernised major power by the middle of this century, the "substructure" is of course an important factor but building a good "superstructure" is even more crucial. Only by strengthening the rule of law properly can the country win corresponding respect from the global community.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union is described by Western academics as a destined "grand failure" because of the lack of self-perfection ability in socialist systems. However, the success of China's reform and opening-up has presented a black swan (or "red swan") case that subverts all the conventional theories in the west. Many experts do not believe the "China collapse theory" easily anymore. Nor do they continue to think China's reform and opening-up will definitely make it more like the West.

More and more western experts have set aside their preconceived ideas and tried to comprehend the Chinese path to success. Some academics suggest dropping the democracy-autocracy dichotomy for understanding Chinese politics and focusing instead on the flexibility in Beijing's policy-making process. Some say China is neither a democracy nor an autocracy, but a "meritocracy". Some even describe China as evolving towards what is called a "phantom democracy". Despite the absence of democratic elections and the iron-fisted crackdowns on online link-up activities in China, the government does care about online public opinion and that has motivated the authorities to be more responsive to public opinion, in a way quite similar to the elected politicians who care about their votes. Many Western experts agree that Beijing has indeed embarked on a unique path.

Over the forty years of Reform and Opening-up, China has certainly improved to some extent regarding the rule of law. That is most evident in the protection of private property rights. In recent years, the central government has also implemented the judicial accountability system. All cases involving wrongful convictions shall be investigated to ascertain where the responsibility lies, so as to "give the public the impression that there is justice and fairness in every judicial case." Nevertheless, in whatever politically sensitive cases, the despotic side of the state apparatus is on full display.

Take the example of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang who was charged with "subversion of state power". Arrested in 2015, he has been put under detention and lost touch with the outside world for more than three years, without any court procedures launched to deal with his charges. No matter how the authorities assert "the case is being handled in accordance with the law", ordinary people may easily doubt if the authorities are concocting excuses for its long-time deprivation of a person's freedom without trials.

Even though China's hard power has continuously increased in recent years in the political, economic and military aspects, it has failed to strengthen its soft power all along. It is true that people's prejudice against China may be one of the reasons behind that. Still, Beijing should do a good job of enhancing the rule of law, otherwise it will find it difficult to earn the respect on a par with its state power from the international community.

明報社評2018.12.19﹕改革開放長路在半途 現代化強國須講法治

北京慶祝改革開放40周年,中共中央總書記習近平強調要擴大開放,堅持走中國特色社會主義道路。中國改革開放是世界歷史大事,標誌中國經過百多年掙扎,終於找到實現現代化之路,昏睡百年的巨人蘇醒,顛覆了西方主導的世界秩序和發展觀,西方學者紛紛研究中國模式,希望了解這個「紅天鵝」現象。過去40年,中國在工業、科技等領域的現代化成績斐然,惟在法治等方面的建設仍有明顯不足。中國要在本世紀中葉成為現代化強國,「下層建築」固然重要,更關鍵是搞好「上層建築」,國家法治做得好,才能在國際社會得到相應的尊重。

蘇聯瓦解,西方學者形容是早已注定的「大失敗」,皆因社會主義制度缺乏自我完善能力,可是中國改革開放成功,卻成為顛覆西方所有傳統理論的黑天鵝(或曰「紅天鵝」),很多專家不再輕信「中國崩潰論」,亦不再認為改革開放必然令中國變得更像西方。

愈來愈多西方專家放下成見,嘗試理解中國成功之道,有學者認為不能用民主與專制的二分法理解中國政治,改為將焦點放在中國決策過程的靈活彈性;有學者認為中國奉行的既非民主亦非獨裁,而是唯才制(meritocracy);有學者還形容中國進化為「幻影民主」(phantom democracy),雖然沒有民主選舉,打壓網上串連活動亦毫不手軟,可是政府對於網上輿情的緊張,亦驅使當局積極回應民情,情况跟民選政客擔心選票有幾分相似。不少西方專家都承認,北京確實走出一條獨特道路。

改革開放40年,中國法治有一定進步,最明顯是保護私有產權,近年中央還落實司法責任制,倘遇冤假錯案,必定追究責任,希望努力讓「群眾在每一個司法案件中都感受到公平正義」;可是一涉及敏感政治案件,國家機器霸道一面便顯露無遺。

以維權律師王全璋涉嫌「顛覆國家政權罪」為例,王於2015年被捕,與外界隔絕,被囚超過3年,至今當局仍未啟動任何法庭程序處理控罪,不管當局如何辯稱「依法處置」,看在一般人眼裏,都會質疑是堆砌理由,未經審訊長期剝奪一個人的自由。

近年中國政經軍事硬實力持續提升,惟軟實力始終搞不上去,別人以有色眼鏡看待,雖是原因之一,不過中國亦需要在法治等方面拿出成績,否則難以在國際社會得到與國力相應的尊重。

■Glossary

paradigm﹕a typical example or pattern of sth

despotic﹕connected with or typical of a ruler with great power, especially one who uses it in a cruel way

apparatus﹕the structure of a system or an organisation, particularly that of a political party or a government

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