Socialism is a system of democracy: An interview with Wen Jiabao

Wen Jiabao (温家宝), Chinese Premier

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I am posting part of an interview with Wen Jiabao. You can see the full interview here. Since it was rather long, I picked the parts I was most interested in. I will talk more about it soon, but first I would like to here your thoughts on what he has to say.

By Fareed Zakaria | NEWSWEEK

Zakaria: China is the largest holder of U.S. Treasury bills. By some accounts, they’re worth almost $1 trillion. It makes some Americans uneasy. Can you reassure them that China would never use this status as a weapon in some way?

Wen Jiabao: As I said, we believe that the U.S. real economy is still solidly based. Particularly the high-tech industries and the basic industries. Now, something has gone wrong in the virtual economy, but if this problem is properly addressed, then it is still possible to stabilize the economy in this country.

The Chinese government hopes very much that the U.S. side will be able to stabilize its economy and finance as quickly as possible, and we also hope to see sustained development in the United States as that will benefit China.

Of course, we are concerned about the safety and security of Chinese money here. But we believe that the United States is a credible country and particularly at such difficult times, China has reached out to the United States.

And actually we believe such a helping hand will help stabilize the entire global economy and finance and to prevent a major chaos from occurring in the global economic and financial system. I believe now cooperation is everything.

Zakaria: May I ask you about China’s role in a broader sense? Many people see China as a superpower already, and they wonder: why is it not being more active in political resolution of issues such as the issue of Darfur or the issue of Iran and its nuclear ambitions?

There is a hope that China will play a role as a responsible stakeholder, to use Robert Zoellick’s phrase when he was deputy secretary of state, and that China will be more active in managing the political problems in the world, and that so far it has not been active. How would you react to that?

Wen Jiabao: To answer this question, I need to correct some of the elements in your question first. China is NOT a superpower. Although China has a population of 1.3 billion and although in recent years China has registered fairly fast economic and social development since reform and opening up, China still has this problem of unbalanced development between different regions and between China’s urban and rural areas. China remains a developing country.

We still have 800 million farmers in rural areas, and we still have dozens of million people living in poverty. As a matter of fact, over 60 million people in rural and urban areas in China still live on allowances for basic living costs in my country. And each year, we need to take care of about 23 million unemployed in urban areas and about 200 million farmers come and go to cities to find jobs in China. We need to make committed and very earnest efforts to address all these problems.

To address our own problems, we need to do a great deal. China is not a superpower. That’s why we need to focus on our own development and on our efforts to improve people’s lives.

Zakaria: But surely the Chinese government could pressure the Sudanese government or the Iranian government or the government in Burma to be less repressive. You have relations with all three of them.

Wen Jiabao: That brings me to your second question. Actually in the international community, China is a justice-upholding country. We never trade our principles.

Take the Darfur issue that you raised just now for example. China has always advocated that we need to adopt a dual-track approach to seek a solution to the Darfur issue. China was among the first countries sending peace-keepers to Darfur.

China was also the first country that gave assistance to Sudan and we also keep our efforts to engage the leaders in Sudan to try to seek a peaceful solution to the issue as quickly as possible.

Zakaria: Premier Wen, your country has grown, as you pointed out, 9½ percent for 30 years — fastest growth rate of any country in history. If people come to you and say to you, “What is the Chinese model of succeeding as a developing country?” What would you say? What is the key to your success? What is the model?

Wen Jiabao: It’s easy to answer this question, that you may think about this thing — that about 30 years ago, why China was not able to grow as fast as it has in the following years. I think this is attributable to the reforms and opening up a policy we introduced in 1978. This holds the key to China’s success. By introducing reform and opening up, we have greatly emancipated productivity in China.

We have one important thought: that socialism can also practice market economy.

Zakaria: People think that’s a contradiction. You have the market economy, where the market allocates resources, and in socialism, it’s all central planning. How do you make both work?

Wen Jiabao: The complete formulation of our economic policy is to give full play to the basic role of market forces in allocating resources under the macroeconomic guidance and regulation of the government.

We have one important piece of experience of the past 30 years: that is to ensure that both the visible hand and the invisible hand are given full play in regulating the market forces.

If you are familiar with the classical works of Adam Smith, you will know that there are two famous works of his. One is “The Wealth of Nations”; the other is the book on the morality and ethics. And, “The Wealth of Nations” deals more with the invisible hand that are the market forces. And the other book deals with social equity and justice. And in the other book he wrote, he stressed the importance of playing the regulatory role of the government to further distribute the wealth among the people.

If in a country, most of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, then this country can hardly witness harmony and stability.

The same approach also applies to the current U.S. economy. To address the current economic and financial problems in this country, we need to apply not only the visible hand but also the invisible hand.

Zakaria: May I ask you — some Americans and Europeans, particularly human rights observers, say that China has cracked down on human rights over the last few years, that they had been hoping that the Olympics would lead to an opening of China, but that it has, there has been more repression. How would you respond to that?

Wen Jiabao: By hosting the Olympic Games, China has actually become more open. Anyone without biases will see — have seen that. In the freedom of speech and the freedom in news media coverage are guaranteed in China. The Chinese government attaches importance to, and protects, human rights. We have incorporated these lines into the Chinese constitution, and we also implement the stipulation in real earnest. I think for any government, what is most important, is to ensure that its people enjoy each and every right given to them by the constitution.

Including their right to survival, freedom and to pursue their happiness.

We don’t think that we are impeccable in terms of human rights. It is true that in some places and in some areas, we do have problems of this kind or that kind. Nonetheless, we are continuing to make efforts to make improvements, and we want to further improve human rights in our country.

Zakaria: When I go to China and I’m in a hotel and I type in the words Tiananmen Square in my computer, I get a firewall, what some people call the Great Firewall of China. Can you be an advanced society if you don’t have freedom of information to find out information on the Internet?

Wen Jiabao: China now has over 200 million Internet users, and the freedom of Internet in China is recognized by many, even from the west. Nonetheless, to uphold state security, China, like many countries in the world, has also imposed some proper restrictions. That is for the safety, that is for the overall safety of the country and for the freedom of the majority of the people.

I can also tell you on the Internet in China, you can have access to a lot of postings that are quite critical about the government.

It is exactly through reading these critical opinions on the Internet that we try to locate problems and further improve our work.

I don’t think a system or a government should fear critical opinions or views. Only by heeding those critical views would it be possible for us to further improve our work and make further progress.

I frequently browse the Internet to learn about a situation.

Zakaria: What are your favorite sites?

Wen Jiabao: I’ve browsed a lot of Internet Web sites.

Zakaria: I will take advantage of your kindness and ask you a question that many people around the world wonder about. There is a very famous photograph of you at Tiananmen square in 1989. What lesson did you take from your experiences in dealing with that problem in 1989?

Wen Jiabao: I believe that while moving ahead with economic reforms, we also need to advance political reforms, as our development is comprehensive in nature, our reform should also be comprehensive.

I think the core of your question is about the development of democracy in China. I believe when it comes to the development of democracy in China, we talk about progress to be made in three areas:

No. 1: We need to gradually improve the democratic election system so that state power will truly belong to the people and state power will be used to serve the people

No. 2: We need to improve the legal system, run the country according to law, and establish the country under the rule of law and we need to view an independent and just judicial system.

No. 3: Government should be subject to oversight by the people and that will ask us, call on us to increase transparency in government affairs and particularly it is also necessary for government to accept oversight by the news media and other parties.

There is also another important aspect that when it comes to development of democracy in China, we need to take into account China’s national conditions, and we need to introduce a system that suits China’s special features, and we need to introduce a gradual approach.

Zakaria: People say you’re studying the Japanese system because there’s democracy but there’s only one party that seems to win the elections. Is that the kind of model you see for China?

Wen Jiabao: I think there are multiple forms of democracy in the world. What is important is the substance of democracy.

Which means that at the end of the day, what is important about democracy is that whether such form of democracy can really represent the calling and interest of the people.

Socialism as I understand it is a system of democracy. Without democracy, there is no socialism.

And such a democracy first and foremost should serve to ensure people’s right to democratic elections, oversight and decision making.

Such a democracy should also help people to fully develop themselves in an all-around way in an environment featuring freedom and equality.

And such a democracy should be based on a full-fledged legal system. Otherwise, there would be chaos. That’s why we need to run the country according to law and ensure that everyone is equal under the law.

Zakaria: We’ve talked about elections many times. Do you think in 25 years there will be national elections in which there will be a competition, there will be perhaps two parties, that will be running for a position such as your own?

Wen Jiabao: It’s hard for me to predict what will happen in 25 years time. This being said, I have this conviction — that China’s democracy will continue to grow. In 20 to 30 years time, the whole Chinese society will be more democratic and fairer, and the legal system in China will further be improved. The socialism as we see it will further mature and improve.

Zakaria: Let me ask you, premier, finally a couple of questions that are personal. You’ve said that you’ve read the works of Marcus Aurelius a hundred times. Marcus Aurelius is a famous stoic philosopher. My reading of him says that one should not be involved in the self, and in any kind of pursuits that are self-interested but should be more for the community as a whole. When I go to China these days, I am struck by how much individualism there is, how much consumerism there is. Are you trying to send a signal to the Chinese people to think less about themselves and more about the community?

Wen Jiabao: It is true I did read the meditations written by Marcus Aurelius Antonio on many occasions, and I was very deeply impressed by the words that he wrote in the book — to be fact – where are those people that were great for a time? They are all gone, leaving only a story, or some even just half a story. So I draw the conclusion that only people are in the position to create history and write history.

I very much value morality, and I do believe that entrepreneurs, economists and statesmen alike should pay much more attention to morality and ethics.

In my mind, the highest standard to measure the ethics and morality is justice.

That’s why in the morning when I answered the question, I said that I believe in the veins of the economist, we should see the blood of morality.

When we think about economy, we think more about the real elements concerning the company, the capital, the market, the technology, so on and so forth. And we might forget about the other sort of elements that work behind the scene, and these factors are also affected by the visible factors like conviction and morality. Only when we combine these two kinds of factors, can we put in place a full picture of the DNA of the economy.

It is true in the course of China’s economic development, some companies have actually pursued their profits at the expense of morality and we will never allow such things to happen.

We will not allow economic growth at the expense of the loss of morality because such approach simply can not sustain.

That’s why we advocate the corporate, occupational and social ethics.

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One response to “Socialism is a system of democracy: An interview with Wen Jiabao

  1. Fareed Zakaria is a typical “drive by” media type. Having read some of his stuff for Newsweek before, he lived up (or down) to the expectation of comments like “socialism is a system of democracy” slide without question. The way he asks the questions almost seems like he wished that the US had a system much like China, with too much government intervention.

    Wen Jiabao’s final comments were interesting to read. He thinks morality is good, but what is that morality based on? What is the point of morality? If it is a self-interest style morality, it is bound to break down and fail. Like the US, China is in despirate need of the Gospel, and morality for its own sake is simply self-rightesousness, and history is littered with such failure.

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