Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Political Democracy in China?

Political Democracy in China?
Filed under: General
Posted by: site admin @ 8:51 am

Is there an Incentive for Political Democracy in China?

The author of this note Dr. S.V. Char attended the Round Table on the 17th Party Congress and the Future of China at the Carter Center in Atlanta, GA on November 09, 2007. What follows is Dr. Char’s own response to the rhetorical question in the title to the note.

Personally this author swears by Athenian political democracy, the vibrant type that is found in the largest democracy in the world, India or the type you have in the oldest democracy, America, or an amalgam of the two, taking the best features of freedom of speech, freedom of action and freedom to choose, property rights and so forth. But of what value is that to the artless peasant in western China still eking out a living from the unyielding soil? Yes, he or she would enjoy the freedom for a while, but like good words butter no parsnips, political democracy by itself may not ensure even a modicum of basic physiological needs of food, clothing and shelter. When the going is so good for China where is the incentive or even the pressure to change horses midstream?

Leaving aside the fact of repression under communist totalitarianism when it was established in 1948 and in subsequent years, the same regime is now credited with lifting over 400 million people out of poverty. More Chinese than ever before have the benefits of not just an elementary education, but even of a higher education. China has emerged as the second largest nation in the world in terms of GDP size and is reckoned as a great power. China attracts ten to twelve times more foreign investment than India. Then there is China’s moon shot, and its massive trade surplus that scares the US, but keeps strengthening its Yuan for ever.

China has left India far behind in economic accomplishments, in particular in helping people at the bottom of the economic ladder, come up. However, this is not to ignore the burgeoning Gini Coefficient of inequality of incomes in China, in which again it has overtaken India, a kind of negative compliment for an egalitarian society. But there are other accomplishments of China such as its emergence as the factory of the world, as the nation that ranks second only to America in GDP size, as the host to the 2008 Summer Olympics, as the US ally that could dissuade North Korea from developing the nuclear bomb and also as one that could deter Iran doing the same. Compare that eminence to that of China before the Mao’s Great March as that of an “opium den” with every major power having its own colony on mainland China. China has risen from that sewage not unlike the Phoenix rising from the ashes.

This means that without a question, China is on the road to prosperity and power more than any one else. Which patriotic Chinese would want to give up all that and open the Pandora’s Box of dreadful political feuds and Tammany Hall politics under a western-style democracy? China has followed western style industrialization, complete with high-energy consumption, and also complete with industrial pollution. Nevertheless, all things considered, and in hindsight, it can be speculated that most thinking Chinese perhaps accept the loss of freedom as under a political democracy as a price to pay in order to keep China in one piece, in order to continue to prosper, to command world attention as a dominant power, and even feared as macho power that can have its way in Tibet or the western provinces, although not in Taiwan.

In this setting, one can only wonder whether, among the Chinese masses, there is indeed an incentive to go for political democracy like we know it here. There are real fears that such a democracy would not be expedient even for economic democracy considering that without an authoritarian government, people would choose to do whatever they think is best for them, in their personal self-interest. The well-informed Chinese could be perhaps be excused for belittling the repressions in China and for entertaining the fear that introducing a political construct engendered by Greco-Roman and Christian traditions and so alien to Chinese milieu, could only result in a reversion to the skid row ways of pre-revolution times.

Are there no genuine democracy lovers in China that could do with more freedom? In a nation of 1.3 billion it would not be hard to find several millions that would embrace American–style democracy and perhaps even ways of living and values. But it is possible, that they are a minority. As such, even if political democracy is introduced, it is very likely that the same regime and persons may be voted back to power not unlike in Putin’s Russia. There may also be millions of Chinese that would not welcome any version of “cocacolinzation” and any dilution of the heady drink of prosperity that they are enjoying. This would of course include the hundreds of millionaires that do not want to behave like millionaires lest they are targeted for additional confiscatory taxes!

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