The other very interesting news story today, from my point of view, was Hu Jintao's speech at the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of China. Jonathan Watts made yet another excellent analysis in The Guardian. If only all of the reporting in that paper was up to his high standards!
Unfortunately El Presidente appeared on the one hand to recognise that increasing democracy is important but then fluffed it by making it quite clear that "We must uphold the party's role as the core of leadership in directing the overall situation and coordinating the efforts of all quarters," and "we must uphold the party's role as the core of leadership in directing the overall situation and coordinating the efforts of all quarters," he said. This strongly suggests that there will be no move towards genuine multi-party democracy in China for the foreseeable future.
Instead the usual tired old formula of "inner-party democracy" was wheeled out yet again. So, more of the claimed 73 million members of the Communist Party will have a say? Really? My experience of meetings in China was always one of watch and agree with the leader and just regurgitate what the leader says.
The Chinese Communist Party is worried about corruption undermining it's legitimacy. But rather than recognise that it is the monopoly of power which is the root cause of corruption and the fact that the Communist Party tries to police itself through the corrupt policing the corrupt, it is carrying on reinforcing the same rotten power structure.
The only way in which political movements are able to move forward are through accountability to the wider citizenry and a recognition that a small group of people do not have a monopoly on the truth. This is a lesson that could be learned closer to my home as well. It is critical to avoid the temptation to talk amongst yourselves otherwise your grasp on power will be shorter and weaker than you hope.
By failing to take on the real elephant in the room and show true leadership Hu Jintao has confirmed his status as a monochrome President who will not stand out in the annals of Chinese political history. Had he been bold and recognised that alternative centres of power are essential to ensure the sustainability of legitimacy and power then he might well have gone down in history. It is my prediction that it will be either the Sixth or Seventh generation of leaders who will grasp this reality and think the unthinkable and do the undoable before they are forced to do it by an increasingly impatient general public.
Hu Jintao has not strengthened the Communist Party at this congress. He has weakened it by failing to properly liberalise China when he had the authority and stature to do so.