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Archive for January 13th, 2008

For China, stability comes before democracy

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For China, stability comes before democracy
(photo: WN / deniseyong)

One of the biggest questions concerning the future of East Asia will be the internal evolution of the Chinese political system. China is undergoing breakneck economic development and emerging as a global superpower under the leadership of an authoritarian Communist Party that cannot legitimate itself either democratically or on the basis of its own Marxist-Leninist ideology. Is this model sustainable in the future? Will China become unstable under the pressures of social change, or will it eventually evolve into something resembling a democracy? Any of these outcomes will have critical implications for China’s neighbors and the world as a whole.

In the United States, there has been a longstanding belief–or perhaps more properly, a hope–that as China grows richer, its political system will evolve into a democracy. There are a number of reasons for expecting this. Historically, there has been a strong correlation between the level of economic development (measured by per capita gross domestic product) and democracy. The critical level is around 8,000-10,000 dollars in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, at which point a society ceases to be predominantly agricultural and has a large, urban industrial workforce. Both South Korea and Taiwan made transitions to democracy when they reached approximately this level of development during the 1980s, a course that Japan of course traveled several decades earlier. One suspects that if Hong Kong were an independent country, it would be a democracy today. While there are rich societies like those in the Persian Gulf that are not democracies, they have got to that level on the basis of resource rents rather than through the development of the skills of their own people, and thus have bypassed the social transformations that encourage democracy.

But why should economic development lead to democracy? There are a number of theories regarding this. One is that people will demand greater political participation as they become better educated, and as a complex division of labor emerges through industrialization. New social classes emerge that want a voice in political decision-making and protection of their rights. This process was clearly visible in South Korea in the late 1980s, when the struggle against the military dictatorship was led by workers, students and members of a newly emergent civil society. The development of a middle class–that is, people who own real property, and hence who have a stake in their property rights–is held to be a particularly important condition for stable democracy.

Under this theory, China is not yet quite at a point in its development where it could sustain a democracy. The World Bank currently estimates its per capita GDP to be around 7,000 dollars in PPP terms, but these estimates are very unreliable, and the bank is reportedly going to lower this number by as much as 40 percent. So China is still some years away from the development threshold that Taiwan and South Korea experienced two decades ago.

And yet, there is no mechanical linkage between wealth and democracy. In particular, the role of the middle classes in promoting democratic political participation is not inevitable, and in the Chinese case works to frustrate the emergence of greater democracy. In 1989, the newly emergent middle classes (led by students in Beijing and other cities) led a protest movement that culminated in the Tienanmen Square demonstrations that were forcibly suppressed by the Chinese government. In the years since then, however, the Chinese middle class has been largely co-opted by the regime, which has allowed it to expand and get rich with extraordinary speed. Upwardly mobile Chinese, buying their first car or condominium, are above all interested in stability.

The communist regime has been good at protecting their gains; looking at the chaos that overtook Russia as it democratized in the 1990s, it focused on economic growth above all as the anchor of its legitimacy.

Ironically, what would threaten the new middle class’ property today is precisely the emergence of a broader democracy. The reason for this is that China remains a hugely unequal society in which hundreds of millions of people have been left behind by the growth in the cities and coastal regions. This is evident from the statistics on inequality: China’s Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality of income distribution, rose from 0.407 in 1994 to 0.473 in 2004, according to the Asian Development Bank, a substantially higher number than most developed countries, including the United States. China’s richest 10 percent have almost 12 times the incomes as the poorest 10 percent. The social consequences of this are evident in the continuing acts of protest and violence by the poor–mostly peasants living in the country’s interior–that occur on a weekly basis around the country.

Opposition to democracy by the middle class is actually a more widespread phenomenon than many people think. In 1992, the middle classes in Thailand supported a pro-democracy movement that pushed the Thai military back to their barracks. But in September 2006, this same sector of Thai society quietly supported the takeover of the country by the military. They did so because they were strongly opposed to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his populist Thai Rak Thai party. While the middle class attacked Thaksin’s corruption, they were equally upset with his redistributive policies that were aiding the rural poor at the expense of future economic growth.

Were China to democratize today, the political consequences would likely threaten middle-class prosperity, if not political stability in general.

There are huge unmet demands on the part of the poor for greater social services. China’s particular route to modernization, using Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs), has created a whole class of wealthy local autocrats who are rightly perceived as corrupt and exploitative. Greater democracy in China would risk a populist explosion on a much greater scale than Thaksin’s revolution in Thailand.

What this means, in my opinion, is that the prospects for a gradual, relatively peaceful transition to democracy, as occurred in Taiwan and South Korea, is unlikely to happen soon in China. Democracy will be potentially destabilizing until the large mass of rural poor in China come to share in the prosperity enjoyed by the elites and middle class.

There is a lot of evidence that the Chinese regime knows that it is sitting on top of a socially explosive situation. While it has been successful at putting down strikes and demonstrations by peasants and workers (ironic, for a communist regime), it knows that it has to do something much more substantial to defuse their anger. But it has been extremely slow to act, accumulating nearly 1.5 trillion dollars worth of foreign reserves even as enormous social needs go unmet.

But while the short-term prospects for democracy in China don’t look good, in the longer run the need for greater democracy will remain. Today, there is only upward political accountability: If people have grievances, they can petition the emperor (aka the Chinese Communist Party) and hope that he will do something to meet their needs.

Over the past year, foreign consumers have rejected Chinese products because poor safety and health standards have led to people being poisoned or otherwise harmed. Chinese authorities have reacted to this vigorously by cracking down on their own regulators and companies. They don’t want to lose foreign markets and are highly sensitive to foreign criticism.

However, these same Chinese companies have been poisoning domestic Chinese consumers and destroying the environment in China for many years without any consequences. The only way these sorts of problems can ultimately be solved is through greater downward political accountability. That is, Chinese officials have to answer not just to the higher Communist Party hierarchy, but to the people they supposedly serve. They will not feel accountable unless there is a free press that can uncover and report their wrongdoings and a civil society that pushes them to reform. This short route of downward accountabiity is what is otherwise known as democracy. Former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore once argued that democracy was not compatible with the Confucian values common in Asia. But modern democracy exists not just as a matter of cultural values; it is also a functional mechanism for reconciling social conflicts and for making sure that rulers meet the needs of the ruled. The particular configuration of political interests in China today may not be conducive to a near-term transition to democracy. But in the end, democracy is a more reliable means of ensuring good governance than reliance on an authoritarian party, in China no less than in Western societies.

Fukuyama is professor of international political economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

(Jan. 13, 2008)
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Written by Lwin Aung Soe

January 13, 2008 at 2:56 pm

World Focus on Burma (13 Jan 08)

  1. Bully at the Home: Demoralized Burmese Military regime
    Mizzima.com, India –
    But obviously, the people don’t rely news in their state-media outlets and state-run newspaper ‘New Light of Myanmar’ just mere nothing to them. …
  2. Burmese refugee care part of grants
    Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, IN –
    By Amanda Iacone Two grants worth more than $133000 will help establish new medical programs to help Burmese refugees relocating in Fort Wayne receive the …
  3. Myanmar dissident condemns talks
    Earthtimes, UK –
    The talks were organized by Ibrahim Gambari, the envoy sent by the United Nations to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, after the military junta crushed …
  4. Burmese man escapes religious persecution
    El Paso Times, TX –
    But that was Burma, now called Myanmar, where Christians have been persecuted by the ruling military junta. The man said soldiers arrested him for spreading …
  5. SA mag joins panty plan to oust Myanmar junta
    Independent Online, South Africa –
    Thein Win, chairperson of the Free Burma Campaign South Africa, said: “It is an excellent idea. Send more panties to sap more power so that they know people …
  6. Canada’s China Foreign Aid Policy
    Canada Free Press, Canada –
    7) China supports repressive regimes around the world, such as North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Myanmar (Burma), a clear indication of its lack of respect …
  7. Japan to provide 6 bil. yen in aid to 4 Mekong nations+
    TOKYO, Jan. 12 (Kyodo) – Japan will provide a combined 6 billion yen in aid to four nations in the Mekong River region to fund various projects, including the envisioned construction of two highways traversing.
  8. Myanmar unrest brings more seeking US asylum
    El Paso Times, TX –
    But that was in Burma, now called Myanmar, where Christians have been persecuted by the ruling military junta. The man said soldiers arrested him for …
  9. Myanmar junta calls for vigilance
    Peninsula On-line, Qatar –
    Source ::: AP yangon • Myanmar’s ruling junta warned the public to be vigilant and report suspicious activities following a bombing that killed one woman in …
  10. Myanmar junta blames foreign influence for acts of sabotage
    Monsters and Critics.com, UK –
    Yangon – Myanmar’s state-run press on Sunday blamed two deadly blasts on insurgents with backing from a ‘foreign organization’ bent of ‘practicing hegemony …
  11. Bomb kills ethnic Karen rebel, injures 4 civilians in Myanmar …
    PR-Inside.com (Pressemitteilung), Austria –
    AP YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – A bomb exploded during a circus show in northern Myanmar, injuring four civilians and killing the Karen rebel who allegedly …..
  12. Bomb hits Yangon rail station, woman wounded
    Reuters AlertNet, UK –
    Small bomb blasts at public places such as Buddhist temples, markets and fairs are relatively common in the former Burma, which has been under military rule …
  13. Bomb Hits Yangon Rail Station, Woman Wounded
    Javno.hr, Croatia –
    Small bomb blasts at public places such as Buddhist temples, markets and fairs are relatively common in the former Burma, which has been under military rule …
  14. Bomb attacks hit Burmese cities
    BBC News, UK –
    The state-run newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, said in both cases it was the bomber who was killed in the process of handling the bomb.
  15. Burma villagers sift for junta’s glitzy scraps
    San Francisco Chronicle,  USA –
    First lady Laura Bush has urged jewelers not to buy gems from Burma, also known as Myanmar. Some of the world’s biggest names in precious stones, …
  16. China’s Soft Power
    RealClearPolitics, IL –
    An authoritarian junta shunned by the US rules Burma, or Myanmar. China has provided the largest amount of aid to Burma and helped to build roads, …

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

January 13, 2008 at 3:06 am

Video-inside of Burma: In Shanland – Children of Loi Tailang

In this new video release, host Antonio Graceffo takes you back inside of Burma, to meet the children, orphans, and students of Loi Tailang. Their parents were murdered by the Burmese army (SPDC). Their villages were burned. But their education continues at Loi Tailang, under the protection of the Shan State Army (SSA), where they try to continue living their lives as normal, happy young people.

The cost of war is far more reaching than the thousands killed. Also includes the millions displaced, marginalized and relegated to a fringe existence, living just over the border from humanity.

Checkout Antonio’s website http://speakingadventure.com/ 

This post is grabbed from Burma Digest.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

January 13, 2008 at 2:56 am

Posted in Video

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