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Posts Tagged ‘Stability

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)

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

January 13, 2008 at 2:56 pm

World Focus on Burma (19-11-2007)

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  1. Junta wins by playing Suu Kyi card effectively
    Bangkok Post, Thailand –
    By KYAW ZWA MOE Believe it or not, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has prolonged the lifespan of Burma’s repressive junta. …
  2. Toothless charter will hurt Asean credibility
    Bangkok Post, Thailand –
    This principle has already severely limited what Asean has been willing to do in relation to Burma. Another limitation of the charter is the fact that …
  3. WE DON’T WANT VIOLENCE
    Electric New Paper, Singapore –
    … when Burma finally achieves democracy, foreigners who come to Burma will also show respect for our country,’ he said. Another Myanmar national, mrkyaw …
  4. Activists urge Asean to tighten screws on Yangon as summit kicks …
    TODAYonline, Singapore –
    In her speech, Ms Ng reiterated: “My own view is that it (Asean) should not be slow to take Myanmar to task, including suspending it, if its military rulers …
  5. Students defy Myanmar protest ban at ASEAN summit
    Reuters –
    “We want to say that the world is still watching and has not forgotten about Burma,” Muzaffar said. Continued…
  6. THE ASEAN DREAM: WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
    Electric New Paper, Singapore –
    Nothing has done more in recent months to give a sense of relevance to Asean among ordinary Singaporeans than the situation in Myanmar, Mr Yeo pointed out. …
  7. China backs ASEAN on Myanmar
    Hindu, India –
    SINGAPORE: China on Sunday threw its weight behind the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) by taking the line that the Myanmar crisis be …
  8. ASEAN Refuses To Accept US Senate’s Resolution To Debar Myanmar
    AHN –
    … Asian countries (ASEAN) on Sunday has refused to accept the US Senate’s resolution for suspending Myanmar (also called Burma) from the regional group. …
  9. Arroyo, Burma PM meet before summit
    Inquirer.net, Philippines –
    … Minister Thein Sein of Burma (Myanmar) — two leaders whose governments have come under international scrutiny over allegations of human rights abuses. …
  10. Myanmar’s neighbours should play greater role
    South China Morning Post (subscription), Hong Kong –
    Western nations are pressuring the leaders to impose sanctions on the nation’s military rulers or throw Myanmar out of the 10-member Association of …
  11. Southeast Asians finalize landmark constitution that will set up …
    International Herald Tribune, France –
    … Asian nation once known as Burma. A glimmer of hope for democracy in Myanmar has been raised by the recent efforts of UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, ..
  12. ASEAN leaders to tackle Myanmar their way
    ABS CBN News, Philippines –
    … time as the government of Burma has demonstrated improved respect for and commitment to human rights.” Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. …
  13. Asean summit embarrassed by Burma’s rulers
    Financial Times (subscription), UK –
    But many suspect the real rationale is to shield Burma’s military rulers, including Thein Sein, the prime minister, from the public gaze. …
  14. Official media: More peace groups, militia object some points of …
    Xinhua, China –
    The series of statements of the peace groups and militia, carried in the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar in the last two days, include those of …
  15. China to Reject Imposing Sanctions on Myanmar (Update1)
    Bloomberg –
    … effort to bring about change in the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma. China will say it “is in favor of democratic change in Myanmar, …
  16. Myanmar says it will sign ASEAN Charter
    Channel News Asia, Singapore –
    SINGAPORE – Myanmar will this week sign a new charter for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which commits members to promote human rights …
  17. Southeast Asian ministers adopt landmark charter
    AFP –
    However, democracy activists have rejected it as inadequate because it does not include a mechanism to suspend or eject Myanmar from the grouping despite …
  18. SBY has chance to make history with Myanmar
    Jakarta Post, Indonesia –
    President Yudhoyono also needs to personally tell Myanmar’s new prime minister, Lt. Gen. Thein Sein, who will also attend a regional summit, to convey the …
  19. UN envoy sees “opportunity” in Myanmar
    Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates –
    SINGAPORE – UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari sees “a window of opportunity” in Myanmar and hopes to return to the country before year’s end, …
  20. Junta not welcome in Singapore’s Little Burma
    Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates –
    SINGAPORE – Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein, in Singapore for the ASEAN summit, would not be too welcome at Peninsula Plaza, the hub for the …
  21. Stubborn Myanmar question looms over ASEAN signing – Feature
    Earthtimes, UK –
    Despite the international uproar over the crackdown, ASEAN has rejected calls to suspend Myanmar until the crisis is resolved. The Free Burma Coalition, …
  22. Adieu to the ‘Asean Way’
    Wall Street Journal –
    If these recommendations are adopted, Asean’s commitment to reform will immediately be tested by how it will deal with Myanmar’s generals. ..
  23. CWS Hotline 19 Nov 2007: Dominican Republic, Myanmar
    ReliefWeb (press release), Switzerland –
    The humanitarian crisis in Burma (Myanmar) is worsening. Poverty in some regions has reached critical levels, with severe food insecurity and many landless …
  24. Students defy police, march along Singapore’s premier boulevard
    Monsters and Critics.com, UK –
    ‘We also hope that more people will come out and show solidarity with Burma.’ Myanmar has become the focus of protests worldwide after a violent crackdown …
  25. China backs UN efforts in Myanmar, hopes for national …
    International Herald Tribune, France –
    … first led the peaceful demonstrations against the fuel hikes and inflation that were pummeling the impoverished people of Myanmar, also known as Burma. …
  26. Protest Singapore Style; 3 Marchers, 19 Media, 1000 Police
    Bloomberg –
    19 (Bloomberg) — A planned protest in Singapore against Asian leaders’ “tacit” approval of Myanmar’s fatal crackdown on demonstrations fizzled today when …
  27. Asian path to assistance
    Washington Times, DC –
    Following an Asian path is likely to be a more effective way of promoting positive change in Burma. The military regime that came to power in Burma/Myanmar …
  28. US says ASEAN reputation at stake over handling of Myanmar
    PR-Inside.com (Pressemitteilung), Austria –
    … ASEAN has been called into question because of the situation in Burma … It just can’t be business as usual,» she said. Myanmar is also known as Burma.
  29. Nations in need of stability
    Indianapolis Star, United States –
    Earlier this month, two leading United Nations officials seeking to bring peace and stability to Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Sudan incurred the wrath of …
  30. India’s Myanmar policy could provoke the Northeast
    Merinews, India –
    Things went well for New Delhi until the sudden uprising in adjoining Burma (also known as Myanmar). While New Delhi invited critical comments from …
  31. Shades of Tiananmen Square return
    Elmira Star-Gazette, NY –
    In Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), a small country in South Asia, civilians calling for democracy have suffered similar consequences. …
  32. ASEAN leaders to confront Myanmar
    AFP –
    … to push Myanmar’s generals towards democracy, but so far it has been reluctant to take any punitive action against the nation formerly known as Burma. …
  33. Asean under pressure over Myanmar
    Aljazeera.net, Qatar –
    Leaders from the Association of South-East Asian Nations are facing renewed pressure to take action against Myanmar as they gather for an annual summit in …
  34. US Says Possible to Finish Trade Talks in 14 Months (Update2)
    Bloomberg –
    Myanmar is a member of Asean, which has rebuffed calls for sanctions against the military-ruled country, formerly known as Burma. …
  35. Myanmar supports ASEAN Charter after human rights body neutered
    Jakarta Post, Indonesia –
    SINGAPORE (AP): Myanmar gave its full backing Monday to a landmark Southeast Asian charter that will create an agency to review the region’s human rights …
  36. Asean finalises historic charter
    BBC News, UK –
    “If you make all these fierce statements and supposing we say we expel Myanmar [Burma] from Asean, what difference does it make?” Mr Lee told the BBC. …
  37. EU, ASEAN scratch each other’s backs
    Viet Nam News, Vietnam –
    The latter is all the more imperative following the sad events in Myanmar. The EU has a strong interest that Burma/Myanmar develops into a democratic and …
  38. Burma ‘must comply’ with pact
    Bangkok Post, Thailand –
    Singapore – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations expects Burma to comply with a landmark charter after the military-ruled country made no objections …
  39. Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Meets Liaison Minister
    The Associated Press –
    The military has ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, since 1962, crushing periodic rounds of dissent. It held elections in 1990 but refused to hand over …
  40. Myanmar’s detained Suu Kyi taken to state guesthouse
    Reuters UK, UK –
    Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein was due later on Monday to brief his counterparts on events in the former Burma for the first time since the crackdown. …
  41. Detained Suu Kyi taken to govt guesthouse
    ABC Online, Australia –
    There are reports that Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been taken from the Rangoon villa where she has been held for the past four years to a …
  42. ASEAN urged to put rights component of new charter in separate treaty
    JURIST –
    ASEAN is facing criticism for allowing military-ruled Myanmar to sign the Charter, but a split such as described might save face by allowing Myanmar to …
  43. EU confirms tougher Myanmar sanctions
    Monsters and Critics.com, UK –
    ‘The EU looks forward to Mr Gambari’s return and reiterates its call on the government of Burma/Myanmar to afford him all possible assistance, …
  44. EU Tightens Sanctions as Myanmar Is Set to Sign Asian Charter
    Bloomberg –
    “Asean has special responsibility when it comes to the situation in Burma,” US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said today in Singapore. …
  45. Japan, Myanmar pms may discuss reforms, killing: aides
    Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates –
    … and opponents led by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. ‘I cannot specifically predict what they will discuss but in recent meetings with Myanmar, …
  46. ASEAN countries oppose Singapore’s plan for UN envoy to brief …
    PR-Inside.com (Pressemitteilung), Austria –
    Myanmar objected to the briefing and other ASEAN countries, except Singapore, supported Myanmar, a senior Malaysian official told Malaysian journalists. …
  47. Myanmar crackdown tests a core value of Asean
    International Herald Tribune, France –
    “The reputation and credibility of Asean as an organization has been called into question because of the situation in Burma.” Many analysts predict that …
  48. US optimistic about Doha trade talks
    BusinessWeek –
    … deal done,” said US Trade Representative Susan Schwab on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore. …
  49. US Trade Representative Says Situation in Burma Undermining …
    Voice of America –
    Ambassador Schwab told VOA that ASEAN has, in her words, a special responsibility when it comes to Burma. “I think the key is business as usual just doesn’t …
  50. Philippines Could Block New Asia Charter
    The Associated Press –
    The US and other nations have strongly criticized ASEAN for its relatively conciliatory approach toward the junta controlling Myanmar, a bloc member that …
  51. Philippines want Myanmar to restore democracy
    Pravda, Russia –
    Unless Myanmar restores democracy and frees Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leader, it is unlikely to ratify a landmark Southeast Asian charter, …
  52. UN envoy Gambari briefing on Myanmar to Asian leaders cancelled …
    ABCmoney.co.uk, UK –
    By : Agencies SINGAPORE (Thomson Financial) – Southeast Asian leaders have called off a briefing by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari on the situation in Myanmar …
  53. Pressuring ASEAN on Burma
    Inquirer.net, Philippines –
    The extrajudicial killings here and the slaying of pro-democracy protesters in Burma (Myanmar) have roused virulent reactions. …
  54. US envoy won’t address Asian summit as planned after Myanmar objects
    PR-Inside.com (Pressemitteilung), Austria –
    It is a difficult problem for Myanmar,» Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the chairman of ASEAN, told reporters, after reading out the statement. …
  55. Burma: Targeted Sanctions Needed on Petroleum Industry
    Reuters AlertNet, UK –
    These entities include the Burmese government’s Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), a state company under the Ministry of Energy whose earnings benefit …
  56. UPADTE 1-ASEAN calls for democracy in Myanmar, bars UN envoy
    Reuters –
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Southeast Asian nations said on Monday that Myanmar should work with the United Nations on democracy and release political detainees, …
  57. ASEAN calls off UN envoy briefing on Myanmar at summit (Extra)
    Monsters and Critics.com, UK –
    Singapore – The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Monday abruptly called off a scheduled address by UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari at a …
  58. UN study spotlights serious development gaps among ASEAN members
    UN News Centre –
    19 November 2007 – As the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) get set to discuss a plan for greater regional integration at …
  59. Junta seizes Chinese mobile phones in northern Burma
    Mizzima.com, India –
    While Burmese mobile phones (operated by the Myanmar Post and Telecommunication) cost about 3000000 kyat the Chinese mobile phones cost about 100000 kyats. …
  60. US criticises ASEAN as Myanmar overshadows new charter
    Guardian Unlimited, UK –
    By Neil Chatterjee SINGAPORE, Nov 19 (Reuters) – Southeast Asian nations called on Myanmar on Monday to move towards democracy after facing criticism and …
  61. ASEAN stands ready to help Myanmar: PM Lee
    Channel News Asia, Singapore –
    By Valarie Tan, Channel newsasia | Posted: 20 November 2007 0247 hrs SINGAPORE : ASEAN leaders have agreed to let Myanmar deal with the United Nations on …