Steven Oliver, University of California at San Diego
Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times began the panel as moderator by placing the prospects for political reform in China in the context of the recent 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress and leadership transition. Although there has been much discussion of the possibility of political reform, there has yet been little indication from the new party leadership or other authoritative sources as to what shape such political reforms could possibly take.
Kim Jae Cheol of Catholic University of Korea spoke of hopes for meaningful political reform in terms of limitations on government power and protection of political rights generally unfulfilled at the conclusion of the party congress. Despite appeals from intellectuals as well as support for reforms in the party press, the authoritative political report delivered by newly anointed General Secretary Xi Jinping was similar to those issued at previous party congresses. Though the report mentions reform, the report nonetheless places much greater emphasis on following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
John Delury of Yonsei University sought to place discussion of political reform into a broader historical context. Delury argued that observers of contemporary Chinese politics often fail to appreciate the meaning of political reform as used by Chinese leaders. Whereas observers often understand reform to entail change of the political system, Delury argues that leaders since the late Qing have generally understood reform to entail change within the system. Concretely, change within the system has often meant administrative reforms.
Lee Tai Hwan of The Sejong Institute echoed Delury