Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, May 14, 2004

A Tale of Two....BILLION PEOPLE

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Recently, events in Iraq and the United States have drawn my attention away from the great mass of the world's population. Perhaps I should be forgiven since I am an American after all. But here is a little something about the two biggest countries on Earth: China and India.

China First: I recently got into a little argument with a good friend of mine about the effect of Chinese public opinion on Chinese foreign policy. This posting will probably start another argument. Oh well, he knows I'm still his loyal friend.

This past April, the Chinese Communist party unilaterally enacted a controversial scaling back of Democratic reforms in Hong Kong. Many in Hong Kong had expected to be allowed to vote directly for the Governor of Hong Kong by now. They also had expected universal suffrage and multi party elections for the Hong Kong legislature. The Guardian quotes,Qiao Xiaoyang, the Chinese Deputy Secretary General of the People's Congress as saying "Governments who are led by the nose by public opinion are irresponsible," (so much for the constraining effect of Chinese public opinion on Chinese government policy). This was not a reaction to some populist uprising in response to a temporary shift in public opinion. This gentleman was commenting on the idea of elections themselves.

I have two things to say to Mr. Qiao. First, he's demonstrably incorrect about the relationship between public accountability of government and effective or "responsible" government. Second, I would warn him of the eternal truth of Virginia's state motto: "Sic Semper Tyrannis" (Thus Always to Tyrants)! He should pay close attention to the mood of the 500,000 odd protestors who hit the streets in Hong Kong after the announced limits on democratic reforms. Hong Kong has a total population of 6.8 million. Keep in mind that when the entire US population generates a demonstration with 500,000 people it is a protest of historic proportions (like MLK's March on Washington).

Now on to India: India is a marked contrast to the highly centralized, undemocratic, authoritarian regime in China. India is a functioning multi-party democracy with universal suffrage and federal administrative system. Governments tend to be coalitions of several parties which leads to policies based on compromise. For the past several years, India has been ruled by a coalition led by the BJP. The BJP is a Hindu-Nationalist party that wants India to reject its secular, multi-cultural traditions and move towards a society based on conformity with Hindu culture. The leader of this party, Mr. Vajpayee, have accomplished some good things: started some needed economic reforms, made moves towards a shaky detente with Pakistan. However, there have been dark sides to this government as well. BJP supporters were largely blamed for anti-Muslim massacres in the state of Gujarat.

Over the last several weeks this enormous democracy (650 million + voters!!) has been conducting an election with admirable order and calm by the standards of most developing countries. The results are now in and the BJP has been soundly defeated by the Congress Party. "Congress" was founded by Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandis K. Ghandi (who was assassinated by a member of a precursor of the BJP).

Comparison: I suggest that China's leaders look seriously at India. Not as they usually do, as a military threat and potential rival in the region, but as an example from which they can learn quite a lot. India is just as huge as China. India faces many of the same problems that China faces. But India manages to operate under a functional democracy with many parties, universal suffrage and federal administrative structures. Ultimately, China will have no choice to be become more like India. The question is how will it become like India. Will the Communist Party of China gradually - but steadily - increase the participation and accountability in Chinese political/governmental affairs? Or will they dig in their heals - as they seem to have done in Hong Kong - and try to keep the lid tight on the pot as the water comes to a boil.

India can in turn learn something from China. China has managed to do quite a bit to solve problems that India still struggles with. First, China is much more active economically (although this week's Economist suggests that China's high growth rates are bubble-like and unsustainable - a "hard landing" recession would be VERY bad for China, Asia and the world). Second, China's population is growing much slower than is India's. Granted, I doubt a democratic society could achieve that goal using some of the more draconian methods adopted by China but don't throw the baby out with the bath water (sorry for the pun).

3 comments:

Gaoshan said...

Actually, I agree with you. I think China dropped the ball regarding Hong Kong.

"Will the Communist Party of China gradually - but steadily - increase the participation and accountability in Chinese political/governmental affairs?"

They already are. Verrrry slowly, but they are. I think this is great and I am not sure they are wrong to proceed so slowly. Many in China saw what has happened in the former Soviet Union and that spooked the hell out of them (not just the politicians but the regular people as well).

"Or will they dig in their heals - as they seem to have done in Hong Kong "

Like I said, I think China dropped the ball in this situation, however I wouldn't characterize it as digging in their heels. China is a monolithic, traditional entity and change simply does not come easily. It doesn't mean it won't eventually come, though. Give them more time.

"this week's Economist suggests that China's high growth rates are bubble-like and unsustainable"

Absolutely right, in my opinion. It would be horribly bad for everyone. The only bright spot is that, in recent months, China has started to take measures to curb that growth. I think they see it as well as anyone but it takes time to stop a train that long.

Regarding China's population control. I think it is a good thing and most Chinese I talk to agree. Be aware that this rule is hardly the draconian measure it is often portrayed to be in the West. If a woman has a second baby, she will have to shoulder all of the costs herself (and they can be considerable). She won't have to undergo a forced abortion or any other such nonsense but she will be out a lot of money and come under considerable scorn from the public in general (because most people agree with the policy. The reaction would probably be something like what an obviously pregnant woman who orders a few drinks while she sucks on a cigarette might encounter here in America). Women that have twins (or triplets, etc.) are not penalized in any way. Indeed they are regarded as quite lucky by some. On the negative side, last time I was in China I read an article about how rich people could "purchase" the right to have multiple children. Why? As one anonymous person put it, "Because we are of higher quality and our children will be as well". BARF!!

Raised By Republicans said...

Interesting points. However, I generally find cultural explanations very unsatisfying - particularly when applied to a country where the official government position is that culture is merely the "super structure" of the mode of production (aka the economy). Frankly, I think that's one thing Marx got right.

Cultures change - even in China. Of course, often the time between changes is long but when change comes it can happen very suddenly (in historical terms)- even in China.

Consider what will happen in China if they lose their finely tuned control of the economy. What if their efforts to avoid a bursting of their economic bubble fail and there is a crash? Will the masses of suddenly impoverish Chinese middle class people continue to advocate "slow" change in the traditional Chinese way? I very much doubt it. If the banks in Shanghai collapse, there will be rioting in the streets that will make Tianamen look like a picnic.

Another problem I have with cultural explanations for the socio-economic-political situations in different countries is that they - and I don't want to start a fight here - they sound a little chavanistic. People ascribe "good" cultural traits to explain things they like about some countries and "bad" cultural traits to explain things they don't like about other countries.

You once said for example some to the effect that American foreign policy is imperialist because Americans have certain cultural traits. COnversely you said that China's foreign policy was more tollerant of other countries because of Chinese culture. I think this line of reasoning is dangerous.

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