hosted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
Last Tuesday (July 13) marked the 4th anniversary of the tragic death of Liu Xiaobo. His death still stands as a great loss for mankind, as well as an unfathomable loss for the entire dissident community in China. I will now analyze this loss, among others things, in my remarks under the panel’s theme of “The Role of Dissidents in Gaining Freedom.”
Many people like Liu Xiaobo, including myself, have dedicated their lives to advocating for a transition to democracy in China. But in recent years, the CCP regime has been tightening its grip on power. It is indeed a great shame. The CCP regime’s grip on power is tighter than at any time in history, and human rights violations in China are at an all-time high. Even in my darkest moments—first, on the morning of June 4, 1989, when I witnessed tanks crushing students to death on the streets of Beijing; and second, during the roughly 15 months that I spent in solitary confinement, between 2002 and 2003, in a prison in China—I never would have imagined that the CCP’s tyranny would continue unabated well into today.
There are many things that people think should be done to change the current worrisome trend, but the problem is that no one knows what course(s) of action would be sufficient. I propose a different way of thinking. First, we should identify the necessary conditions for a dictatorship to shift in the direction of greater freedom and dignity for its people. Second, we must do everything possible to make these conditions a reality. It is my hope that the rest will take care of itself.
In my opinion, at least four conditions must be simultaneously met in order for there to be a chance of achieving meaningful change in China. (These four necessary conditions are true of any autocratic regime.)
1) People are strongly discontented with the political status quo;
2) As a result of (1), a viable democratic opposition arises;
3) A rift occurs within the leadership of the CCP government; and
4) The international community believes that China’s democratic opposition is viable and supports it on the basis of its values as well as for strategic considerations.
These four conditions are all mutually reinforcing. I don’t have time to elaborate, but it is easy to understand. Of the four conditions, the United States can do very little directly about (1) and (3), but there is a lot that we can do concerning (2) and (4).
I want to focus on (2), namely, “viable democratic opposition,” because this is where we, as dissidents, must strive to bring about change, but so far have failed. Lamentably, we now find ourselves struggling for relevance.
Over the past three decades, numerous dissidents have emerged in China, and there have also been a few attempts to form a movement advocating for greater civil discourse, with varying degrees of success. However, in the end, a viable democratic movement has yet to be established. There are several reasons for this, which I won’t have time to expound upon in my opening remarks, but hopefully I will have a chance to discuss them during the Q&A session. For now, I want to define the characteristics of a viable democratic opposition, so that we can see what is lacking and the specific goals we must struggle to achieve. In my view, a viable opposition should be comprised of three aspects:
1) A recognized mainstream coalition
Dissidents themselves are not a movement, let alone a viable one. There must be participation by and support from a certain number of members of the general public. Numbers matter. To that end, good strategies must be adopted, such as increasing engagement (as opposed to losing touch with reality and the people) and lowering the cost for the people to join (such as through non-violence, discrete and well-defined goals at each point, consideration of the fear that people may have, avoidance of extreme positions, and not unnecessarily making enemies within the government).
Goal: For the work that used to be done by heroes to be done by ordinary people.
2) A widely-recognized, relatively unified and stable group of leaders
Unfortunately, Chinese dissidents lack a unified voice. Liu Xiaobo, with his international recognition and moral authority, was probably the only one who could bring together a mainstream coalition and a fairly unified leadership. That factor is now gone.
Leaderlessness, as embodied by the recent Hong Kong movement, may be good in the initial stages to evade the government’s targeting. However, in the long run, the lack of a broadly acknowledged leader will prove harmful when a unified force is needed to bring about significant changes.
3) A recognizable and relatively stable group of leaders who are capable of
a. Representing, and being trusted by, the general public (again, good strategies and moral authorities are needed);
b. Altering, at least partially, the current political order;
c. Garnering attention and support from the international community; and
d. Carrying out effective negotiations with the CCP regime (or calling off such negotiations if the CCP appears insincere, uncooperative, and/or closed-minded).
This is a big topic. I have put forth some of my overall thoughts to set the ball rolling.
One of the four necessary conditions I previously mentioned for achieving meaningful political change is the international factor, which I did not particularly elaborate on in my remarks. I hope this is not interpreted as deemphasizing this factor. The international factor should by no means be overlooked. I hope this topic will be taken up during the Q&A session.