Party looks unmoved by call for freedoms

John Garnaut in Beijing
December 17, 2008

MORE than 3600 people from all walks of Chinese society have added their names to Charter 08, an internet manifesto calling for the Communist Party to give up absolute political control.

Momentum is building behind the charter and some signatories say they remain optimistic that the party leadership is open to their demands, even amid the economic uncertainty and political sensitivities leading up to the 20th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre.

"I feel optimistic on reform," Wen Kejian, a prominent scholar and early signatory, told the Herald. "The time for [political] reform has come because 30 years of economic reform has come to a dead end and grassroots power is getting stronger."

However, the Communist Party appears to be clamping down on political freedoms and remains vigilant about any political movement that has the capacity to organise against it.

The charter began with 303 signatories, mainly writers and academics. Support has broadened to include soldiers, serving officials, workers, unemployed people, students and many overseas Chinese.

Dozens and probably hundreds of charter signatories have been arrested, interrogated and harassed, while heavy censorship continues to block mainland Chinese from easily accessing the document.

A blogger with the internet name Nakul said he signed the charter on Sunday and was visited by two policemen the following morning. "The police have never been so efficient," he said.

Liu Xiaobo, a prominent critic since 1989, who some say helped organise the charter, was detained shortly after its publication on December 9 and has not been released.

The charter has divided the progressive wing of Chinese politics.

Xiao Han, a professor at the China University of Politics and Law, wrote on the Bullog website that he had respect for the signatories but their charter was "immature" because it offered no plan for bringing China's leadership to the negotiating table.