March 03, 2006

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The threat of a democratic China

Many China watchers are united in the hope that this great country will one day turn democratic. However as recent experience has shown, becoming a democracy does not necessarily mean becoming a peaceful, loving, caring and liberal place (Hamas, anyone?). David D. Hale has released a report observing that a democratic China could well be a greater threat to the rest of Asia. There is an excellent summary of the report in the CSM by Arthur Bright, with additional links to mainstream media reporting on this. David Hale himself discusses the report in an article in The Australian, comparing China's recent rise with Germany in 1914.

Without paying A$20 to read the report itself, the implications certain ring true. A democratic China is not necessarily a more compliant, gentler or less assertive one. In fact the penchant for nationalism the current leadership shows the deep undercurrent of nationalism that exists within what passes for a polity in China. It's not hard to imagine nationalist forces (small n) jumping into a democratic mess - what else could unite such a diverse country? And with a democratic mandate there would be room to push the envelope even further, especially if there's votes in it (please see Chen, Taiwan).

Sometimes it pays to be careful what you wish for.

posted by Simon on 03.03.06 at 05:24 PM in the China category.


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C'mon, Simon. It's unmitigated crap, the kind that can only be produced by people who think that realpolitik means always choosing the shittiest option -- the real-men-screw-other-people types. It is ethically unconscionable to recommend that a billion people live in corrupt authoritarian nightmare so that you can imagine that they are more "predictable" (please see Hitler, Germany or Stalin, Russia, for predictability and authoritarianism). The report also contains seriously humorous nonsense -- China is already nationalistic and already a threat to its neighbors (please see Dalai Lama, Tibet, and Chen, Taiwan, not to mention oilfields, Japan). Seeking external scapegoats? That's part-n-parcel to human thinking, and China is no exception -- probably worst than most places. Democracy might actually ameliorate some of these problems. Just a thought.

Sure, democracy might not make China less bellicose (Iraq and US/UK). It might make it more unpredictable -- well, at least for those who dose their foreign policy with a healthy diet of testosterone. But for those of us with richer worldviews than the impoverished and clueless power worship that comprises the realpolitik mode of thought, China will probably be very predictable.

Think positive: democracies generally don't fight each other, and make much better neighbors than authoritarian states.


posted by: Michael Turton on 03.03.06 at 08:15 PM [permalink]

This is what happens when people don't think in essentials. What China needs is respect for individual rights. To the extent that individual rights are protected and respected, its domestic and international situation will improve. Of course if the US President can't tell the difference between a democracy and a constitutional republic based on the protection of individual rights, how can one expect it of the Chinese?

posted by: A.West on 03.03.06 at 09:54 PM [permalink]

As one of the impoverished and clueless power worshippers I heavily disagree with Michael Turton.

p.s. Tibet is part of China, Taiwan is part of China, and the oilfields are on China's side of the border (The Japanese are accusing China of pulling a Kuwait). :P

I guess some people have different ideas of what constitute as essentials. Respect for individual rights is fairly low down on the list behind economic growth, political stability, and POWAAAAAAAAH!

posted by: Jing on 03.04.06 at 07:39 AM [permalink]

to all those who attack the aussie academics. please note they have been very careful in their choice of word ("use", "not neccesarrily")

i.e. they merely listed this as one of the many directions that China may go. quoting hitler's germany needs certain interpretation. e.g.
1) how many democracies turned into Nazi?
2) does China has the pre-condition that Germany had in the 1930s? (economic recession, victim mentality after WWI -- you may find Japan may be more comparable to Germany in 1930s than China, if it suffers another recession. The other lesson is for the international society to avoid pushing China into the Germany-corner, e.g. isolating it economically, helping the nationalists find excuse to spread victim mentality)

Therefore, the Aussies are of course correct in raising such caution, esp as an academic exercise.
We should know that whatever a few academics down-under say does not change the course China moves. We should also thank the Aussie for alerting us of such possibility, so that we deal with the problem ahead. The problem is not they are right or not, it is how China and the world work together to face such challenge.

posted by: sun bin on 03.04.06 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

(typo) should be "could", "not neccesarily" in the bracket.

posted by: sun bin on 03.04.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Perhaps all politics is not necessarily local, but a damn good portion of it is local. If that is true, democracy might well have the effect of empowering people and orienting them to address issues close to their everyday lives. Pollution looms large here, as does access to health care and education. Why would these issues not come to dominate a democratic China, turning it inward and maintaining its relatively peaceful foreign policy? (I know, there is a lot of pressure on Taiwan but no attack...)

posted by: Sam on 03.05.06 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

Michael: ever heard of the War of 1812? Or consider, a few years back, how Australia soldiers came close to a firefight with their Indonesian opposites in East Timor? There is nothing preventing democratic-democratic warfare expect the will of their populaces. Which, if they're in a feisty mood that year, is little.

And if China decides to get rid of the Commies... well, I think they'll be lucky enough to end up with someone like Putin, or a "Weimar" scenario. You could end up with a return of the warlords. Or either worse: Tajikistan.

posted by: Down and Out in Saigon on 03.05.06 at 01:23 PM [permalink]

China may transcend into a primitive form of democracy like in Taiwan or Korea.

Or becoming a one party dominating democracy like in Japan.

Or it may take a wrong turn and become a messy and corrupting democracy like in Mexico, Venezuela and India.

Geographically, US and China share a lot of similarities. but is the US democratic system the best and suitable for China?

posted by: daco on 03.06.06 at 07:39 AM [permalink]

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