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China watches US democracy avidly, but without envy
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Oct 29, 2012


China critics 'doomed to failure': official
Beijing (AFP) Oct 29, 2012 - China on Monday warned its critics they were "doomed to failure" as Beijing confirmed that Premier Wen Jiabao's family had employed lawyers to help fight The New York Times.

"There are always some voices in the world who do not want to see China develop and become stronger and they will try any means to smear China and Chinese leaders and try to sow instability in China," said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

"Your scheme is doomed to failure," he added.

The official was responding to questions about Wen's decision to hire lawyers to fight claims published by The New York Times last week that his family had owned assets worth $2.7 billion.

"Premier Wen Jiabao's family has entrusted lawyers to release a statement and will continue to clarify the report," the spokesman said.

The South China Morning Post on Sunday printed a statement from Wen's lawyers, saying it was the first time a top Chinese leader had issued a rebuttal to a foreign media report.

Friday's New York Times article came at an especially sensitive time for China, as the Communist Party strives to clean house before a pivotal once-in-a-decade handover of power next month.

Detailing a string of deals, the Times said many relatives of the government's number two -- a self-styled man of the people -- had become "extraordinarily wealthy" during his years in office.

Investments by Wen's son, wife and others spanning the banking, jewellery and telecom sectors were worth at least $2.7 billion according to an analysis of company and regulatory filings from 1992-2012, it said.

The world's two biggest economies choose their next leaders in early November, an accident of timing that lays bare the vivid contrast between China's opaque communist state and America's riotous democracy.

The rhythm of the presidential election in the United States has been set by three televised debates watched by tens of millions of voters, with campaigning carried out online as well as at boisterous rallies that draw thousands.

On the other side of the Pacific the power games are under way behind closed doors, as Communist Party leaders jostle for positions ahead of the regime's once-in-a-decade leadership change starting on November 8 at a special congress.

The victor of the November 6 contest between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney is too close to call, but it is almost certain the new Chinese president will be Xi Jinping, currently vice president in the one-party state.

Speaking to AFP at a university campus in Beijing, Chinese students from diverse backgrounds said they were following closely the change in Washington, which was more lively and entertaining than the transition at home.

State television relays events on the US campaign trail, while websites such as ifeng provided live streaming of the debates and social media networks buzz with discussion of the process and perceived China-bashing by the candidates.

But many of the students' comments made clear they had no desire to import Western-style democracy to China immediately.

"Copying in a mechanical way American democracy would cause a lot of problems in China, even if we need to go that way in order to make progress here," said 24-year-old Zheng Kailun, a philosophy student.

Others admired how the US candidates faced off in the televised debates and even poked fun at each other at a gala dinner last week in New York.

"Obama is a great performer in front of the public, he's got a magnetic personality," said Tu Zongchi, a student of international relations.

But he also said he thought the American electoral system was "not applicable for China at the moment".

One issue with particular resonance in both countries is the personal finances of the candidates for high office.

Obama has sought to highlight Romney's enormous personal wealth and investments in China. The Republican released some of his tax returns -- something unimaginable in China where leaders' lives are meant to stay private.

Last week, a New York Times investigation into investments said to total $2.7 billion by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's family was quickly blacked out by official censors.

Zhang Shuo, a student of mechanical engineering who says he is avidly following the US election, said China's system "largely meets our national needs".

"Perhaps in 30 to 50 years we will also reach the same level of democracy (as the US). It's an evolution," he said.

The students' views that political reform will evolve slowly chime with most analysts' and are in sharp relief to the clamour for democracy that filled the air of Beijing in mid-1989.

Then, hundreds if not thousands of students were gunned down around Tiananmen Square after weeks of protests. Now, a new generation has come of age seeing the fruits of rapid economic growth.

China's leadership craves stability above all as a means to continue the rise, which has made the country a global diplomatic force and helped finance a military upgrade enabling Beijing to project its power.

The growing might of the Middle Kingdom is a source of friction in the Pacific, where China's ambitions clash with Washington's desire to retain its role as the region's pre-eminent force.

On several occasions China has stressed its desire for stable US ties, and warned that it must not be made a scapegoat for America's economic problems, as both candidates assail the country on the campaign trail.

A victory for Romney could have an immediate impact on relations with the Republican candidate vowing to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in the White House.

The move, avoided by the administrations of both Obama and former president George W. Bush, would enable the United States to impose harsh retaliatory penalties on Chinese goods and has led some analysts to warn of a trade war.

Chinese media have urged readers to take such declarations with a pinch of salt.

"Willing or not, Democratic or Republican, the next US president shall have to tone down his get-tough-on-China rhetoric made along the campaign trail," state news agency Xinhua said last week.

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