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Wednesday, June 29

What China can learn from India

"Pundita, I've written a piece titled Post Communist China, which asks what is the plan if and when the Communist Party falls? What is the best way to ensure a liberal democracy takes root and what are the potential alternatives?

I would appreciate your comments and thoughts. It is a debate that needs to happen before, not after, the fall.
Simon in Hong Kong"

Dear Simon:
Pundita is recovering from Double Whammy Night on Batchelor's show (see today's first post) so we are not in an analytical frame of mind. But your questions remind me of the time when Indira Gandhi threw her opposition in jail. An American reporter told her, "Mrs. Gandhi, this is not democracy."

She retorted, "Yes it is. It's Indian democracy."

I am also reminded of a conversation I had with a Mainland Chinese when the Shanghai economic zone was started. I burbled, "I'm so glad China is trying capitalism."

He snapped, "It is not capitalism. It is Chinese improvement to communism."

I have a problem with your mention of the words "fall" and "liberal." We're not looking for perfection here. The CCP doesn't need to fall; they can just change the name. And let's not push luck; if they make it anywhere near the Singapore model in the coming five years, this would be cause for dancing in the streets. Rome wasn't built in a day, and all that.

However, the Chinese could surprise us. Off the top of my head, I'd say that Howard French's report on experiments at the local level, Test of Democracy and Dissent points the way for China. They actually have the apparatus for making democracy work in place at the village level, it's just that they never used it.

That's why I think some variation of democracy could come with stunning speed if the CCP cries, "Uncle!" They have to confront that they need more decision making responsibility carried out at the local level.
By one estimate, there will be 300,000 village committee elections in China’s 18 provinces this year alone. In many areas, officials are making efforts to involve ordinary citizens in local decision making.

“The experiments taking place here and there are very meaningful, because China’s economic reforms began the same way,” said Li Fan, director of the World and China Institute, a nongovernmental institute in Beijing that studies electoral reform. “The central government didn't know how to carry them out, so it relied on local governments.”

Mr. Li said, however, that the most important breakthrough would come when the already existing assemblies -- local, provincial and national groups known as people’s congresses - were given a real say, instead of meeting one day a year, as is typical, to endorse the government’s decisions. “The Communist Party doesn't want this, because they are afraid the congresses will criticize the government,” Mr. Li said. “They prefer a rubber stamp.”
By the way I found the link to the article on your site. The entire report makes riveting reading -- particularly in light of Beijing banishing the D word from the Internet. French's report makes it clear that talk about democracy is alive and well in China.

It's just that they want to make it a Chinese invention. I don't know if you saw the earlier Chinese pairs competitors in Olympics figure skating. Twenty years ago they were a joke. The last Olympics, their lead skaters were a micron off perfection. And this was not a fluke; the entire team reflected a high level of mastery of the sport.

All they need now is to put the same attention to modernizing their government that they put to figure skating and business. The West's job is to keep after them.

"Hi, good morning, lovely weather isn't it? How are you doing with transferring more responsibility to the people this morning?"

Notice how Pundita got through the sentence without mentioning the D word.

In fact, this is why we need to clean up the UN and keep pushing the democracy doctrine. Once democracy becomes a competition between countries, watch what happens. All it ever needed was for the world's superpower to make a strong stand for genuine democracy. That day has finally come. So this era does not belong to cynics; it belongs to the young at heart.

Yet here I would have a caution. Decades ago, and after an absence of many years, John Kenneth Galbraith returned to visit India. When asked to remark on the changes, he replied, "I see that India is still lurching along."

Many Chinese have a horror of things falling apart. You never have that worry if you're an Indian because they're always lurching along, for the past 15,000 years or so. That's the same way a sailboat stays on course. Not by keeping to a straight line but by making countless adjustments.

The fear of things falling apart comes from a tendency to think in terms of an ideal. The Chinese need to think back on their Olympics figure skating history. They just kept at it and when one type of system of coaching didn't work, they lurched to another. They need to apply that lesson to the task of modernizing their government via the D word.
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