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China’s Democratic Baby Steps

WASHINGTON, DC – During the state visit to the United States of Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Barack Obama pressed Hu on human rights. He probably should have asked more about spreading democracy in China, because he might have been surprised by what he heard.

In September 2010, Hu gave a speech in Hong Kong in which he called for new thinking about Chinese democracy. He said, “There is a need to…hold democratic elections according to the law; have democratic decision-making, democratic management as well as democratic supervision; safeguard people’s right to know, to participate, to express, and to supervise.”

His remarks elaborated on previous comments by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, delivered in Shenzhen, the coastal free-enterprise zone where China’s economic revolution began. Wen said that political reform, including opportunities for citizens to criticize and monitor the government, is necessary to sustain China’s breakneck economic growth. Otherwise, he argued, the country’s economic gains would be lost.

Wen’s remarks led to speculation that Shenzhen, which set the pace for China’s economic development, could soon become a “special political zone.” China experts noted that a next step could be direct elections for the chiefs of the Special Economic Zone’s six districts.