The World Holds Its Breath for China
  • Thu, 11/08/2012 - 12:56

By REBIYA KADEER
November 8, 2012, 11:29 a.m. ET

The 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party will herald a transition of executive power from President Hu Jintao to Vice President Xi Jinping. The pending changeover to the fifth generation of Chinese leaders resonates across the nation and presents a once-in-a-decade opportunity for the CCP to genuinely embrace political reform.

When Xi Jinping assumes the presidency, it will not only impact Chinese citizens, but also people around the world. China's undoubted importance to the global economy and its emergence as a political powerbroker on every continent means that no one can ignore what happens at the highest levels of the Chinese government.

During the 10 years under Hu Jintao, China has recorded remarkable economic growth, even in the face of a world-wide economic downtown. However, Mr. Hu has also presided over rising domestic economic inequities that threaten to turn China into a country of haves and have-nots. The Chinese government's nervousness over instability fashioned by this cleft in the social fabric has seen intensified repression to the point where a Nobel Peace Prize laureate now languishes in a Chinese prison.

What Xi Jinping will bring to the table is undetermined. Some analysts assert Mr. Xi's credentials as a reformer, while others say it is unlikely he will break with the CCP pattern of using repression to hold on to power. What he does with his power once the leadership transition is safely completed is eagerly anticipated, especially by the people in China, who yearn to see the government turn economic reform into political reform.

It is my hope that Mr. Xi will be a reformer who will move China away from authoritarianism. Mr. Xi should not throw away this chance, which very seldom occurs in the opaque world of Chinese politics, to endorse structural change.

One of those opportunities was missed in 1989 when the people in China demanded human rights, freedom and democracy, but were crushed with tanks and guns. It would be a serious mistake if Xi Jinping decides to take the path of repression and prolong the much needed transformation of the closed political landscape.

It is pertinent that two days before the National Congress convened in Beijing, the citizens of the United States went to the polls to elect representatives at the grassroots and for the highest office in the land. The political system in the U.S. permits citizen engagement on a level that is unimaginable in China.

Simply put, at present, the Chinese grassroots does not have a voice in determining the future of their communities, or their country. A top-down and non-negotiable process establishes policies that do not balance interests and eventually lead to disenfranchisement.

As the pro-democracy leader of the Uighur people, I would like to see China become a country that is governed according to a consensus of all its people. For China to truly develop into a sustained global power, Uighurs, Tibetans, Mongols and Han Chinese must be able to live in a free and democratic nation where their freedom of speech and differences are respected and appreciated.

I believe Mr. Xi could become the greatest Chinese leader in its long and storied history if he bravely seizes the opportunity to push for lasting democratic reform by breaking from CCP's past of authoritarianism. I also believe a democratic China could peacefully resolve the problems besetting East Turkestan and Tibet that have been allowed to fester for far too long.

If the Chinese government can end the policies of Uighur cultural genocide, such as the elimination of the Uighur language in schools, unchecked Han Chinese migration into East Turkestan and the criminalization of Islam, I would also seize my opportunity to find a permanent and peaceful solution to the East Turkestan issue to the satisfaction of both sides.

Freedom and prosperity for all the people in China engendered by a genuine democratic process is a cornerstone for global peace. While the Uighurs and others in China await the choice of path made by the new Chinese leadership in Beijing, the world too is holding its breath.

Ms. Kadeer is president of the Uyghur World Congress. Her autobiography is entitled "Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic Struggle for Peace with China" (Norton, 2009).

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