Xu Zhiyong is possibly the most moderate activist you can imagine: a Decembrist, basically (with a slightly weird emphasis on ‘love’ which sounds a bit like it came from Vaclav Havel’s latterday mystical period, or maybe direct from Jesus). He was arrested recently for leading a campaign for mandatory asset disclosure by officials. This is an entirely mainstream and much discussed issue in China, but not for people who form groups outside official or officially approved contexts. The Party wishes to control ‘reform’ territory. Therefore anyone occupying it independently must desist, submit or be crushed. It’s also, I think, partly an ongoing response to the Arab uprisings and the disastrous attempts to replicate them with a ‘jasmine spring’ in China. In retrospect, that was a really bad move.
Anyway, here’s a two part account of a conversation between Xu and a senior securocrat which apparently took place shortly before he was taken into custody. I’m not entirely confident that this is how things actually went down. I’m reading it more in the spirit of classical era history, of Thucydides having Pericles and his opponents say the things they were supposed to say to each other, with everyone striking the appropriate attitudes: a formal laying out of the issues on both sides from a particular point of view. As such, it’s very much worth your time.
The Economist explains the general reform paradox:
According to Ira Belkin, who runs the US-Asia Law Institute at New York University, the seeming contradiction between a crackdown on activists and genuine moves towards reform is, in fact, “bizarrely consistent”. The key, he says, is the focus by the Communist Party on social stability—ie, not only the risk of social unrest, but of any challenge to its authority. Stability depends upon public trust in the legal system, which is likely to improve when wrongful convictions are stopped.
At the same time, Mr Belkin says, when the authorities identify people as troublemakers, “they show no mercy in order to deter them and others”.
If Mr Xu is in jail - if he is out of the picture - he can’t take the credit for freeing anyone. Nothing bizarre about that from the Party’s perspective; it’s actually necessary. Also, the CPC has a long tradition of creating enemies. In the wider context we see the borg presenting itself as the ‘sane alternative’ between rogue cadre like Bo Xilai and positionally mild reformers like Mr Xu. This is a centrist play, in a Chinese context. It’ll be interesting to compare the sentences both eventually get.