DEMOCRACY FOR CHINA: WHAT WILL IT TAKE?
DEMOCRACY FOR CHINA: WHAT WILL IT TAKE?
By Roland Watson
June 4, 2010
The most populous nation in the world, China, is a dictatorship. It has been ruled for the last sixty-one years by the Communist Party (CCP). Under Mao Zedong, the CCP was a typical communist regime. The population was kept equal – equally poor. Since Deng Xiaoping, it has become more properly a “capitalist dictatorship.” China today has great, and still growing, inequality. It is a merger of the worst in authoritarian political and economic rule.
The CCP provides material and/or diplomatic support to many other dictatorial regimes around the world. These include: North Korea, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan), Russia, Belarus, Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba, and Venezuela. In addition, Tibet, East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia are so dominated by the CCP – for the moment at least – that they have been annexed into China itself.
We should also not forget all of the problems that emanate from China and which affect the entire planet. These include support for the rogue nuclear states North Korea and Iran (and now Burma); the host of deadly consumer products that have been exported from China (and which the CCP refuses to regulate); as well as wide-ranging environmental abuses. The last extends from an uncontrolled demand for timber, mineral resources and endangered species, which is driving environmental destruction and extinction throughout the earth; to air-borne industrial pollution which circulates it; as well as the CCP’s maneuvering last year in Copenhagen to sabotage international efforts to address climate change.
China’s more than one billion people are being denied freedom and human rights. The CCP’s client states have a total population that approaches another billion, and which similarly are denied their rights. Approximately one-third of the world’s population is repressed, either directly or indirectly, due to the CCP.
All of these countries, starting with China, have human rights movements and associated advocacy groups, which protest against the manifold ways in which the regimes abuse the peoples’ rights. Many of these groups, though, while laudable, in particular because of the dangers – of arrest and torture, even murder – that their leaders and members regularly face, are nonetheless based on an incorrect premise. They believe, or at least they act on, the assumption that human rights can be improved without change to the regime itself, in other words, that human rights can coexist with dictatorship.
This is a fallacy. There can be no human rights without democracy. A dictatorship may pay lip service to human rights, even allow the people some specific rights from time to time, but our full spectrum of rights can never be established and preserved within a dictatorial system. Indeed, democracy is a system designed to protect human rights. Dictatorship is predicated on their rejection and abuse.
The people of China, and also Tibet, East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia, will continue to be denied their rights until the CCP loses power and China becomes a democracy. Other dictatorial regimes will continue to receive CCP support. The rest of the world will continue to suffer the problems that arise out of mainland China.
The question, then, is how can the Chinese people achieve democracy? What will this profound transformation require?
The CCP is strong, and its strength is increasing every day. Notwithstanding factionalism within the Party, the leaders are united around the goal to preserve their rule. A key element underlying this unity is the CCP’s wealth. Chinese businesses have profited enormously from the sale of consumer and industrial products, which the world has been happy to buy. The Party takes a substantial percentage of this trade, hence its accumulated reserves of $2.4 trillion. In addition, with its wealth the Party has been rapidly upgrading its military capability. The People’s Liberation Army is now equipped with advanced weapons systems that have been internally developed, secured through espionage, or purchased from authoritarian allies such as Russia.
The International Community has been dithering about the rise of the new China. The hunger for cheap goods has convinced the rest of the world to ignore the totalitarian nature of the CCP and its many, many abuses. The Party further has conducted a full-scale charm offensive, buying loyalty from different nations around the globe, particularly in lesser-developed regions and whose own leaders are also authoritarian. China is actually creating a dictatorial block that constitutes a modern form of imperialism. Whereas Rome conquered other nations and peoples by force, China, the new Rome, is doing it quietly and with money.
The people of China
The natural source for resistance to CCP rule and a demand for democracy is the Chinese public. Within the country’s large population, though, there are many different groups. A great number of people actually belong to the Party, or work for or otherwise benefit from it. The CCP further has created the largest propaganda machine in history, which has the dual goals to promote communist rule and to silence all dissent. This propaganda machine is coupled with the similarly largest censorship exercise in history, notably through the Great Firewall that restricts access by the Chinese people to the Internet.
The basic argument that the CCP makes is that “The Party Knows Best.” The leaders are arguing that they are “benevolent dictators,” and that for China this is the only type of political system that will work. (The irony here is that benevolent dictatorship has roots in Confucianism, and the CCP was formed in part to destroy China’s ancient traditions. Now, at least in this case, it is embracing them.)
Benevolent dictatorship is the theoretical alternative to democracy. It claims, among other things, that people are unable to govern themselves: that like sheep we must be led. This is certainly arguable, but the position also has numerous obvious flaws. How do we choose who gets to lead, and how do we prevent them from abusing their power? As China saw under Mao, absolute power often has horrific consequences. And, even if under a particular ruler, or emperor, life is good, there is no guarantee that the next will also be benevolent. Indeed, the odds are, as Rome itself experienced, that tyrants will follow just leaders. Finally, as the people in such a society experience abuse, they become resentful and ultimately attempt to rebel. It is an inevitable cycle with this type of system.
In China, CCP members and cronies, and some portion of the general population, accept dictatorship. Most people, though, cannot be bothered with political concerns. They are too absorbed with their daily struggle to worry about such matters.
Contrasting the pro-regime factions, and on the other side of the silent majority, is an active and growing movement for change. This movement, though, is fractured. The largest elements are human rights groups, which are seeking relief for a wide variety of problems, including corruption, inequitable land distribution, sweatshop working conditions, religious persecution, political prisoners, and environmental crimes. A key participant here is the Falun Gong, which is seeking freedom to practice its spiritual exercises. This is a human rights motivation, and it is notable that the Falun Gong fully supports Confucian ideals.
The largest independent “internal” movements, for Tibet, East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia, also focus on improving human rights, for the Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongolian peoples, not an outright demand for freedom and independence (although such groups have made it clear that they support democracy in China as well). The few internal groups that actually focus on democracy are small (although they are highly motivated), and include the Charter 08 movement and the China Democracy Party.
Finally, there is a large population of Chinese people who reside outside the mainland yet have an active concern for its problems. Many of these people advocate through groups that focus, once again, on human rights issues. A few, though, such as the international branches of the China Democracy Party, and also the Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition, concentrate their efforts on opposition to the CCP and the need for a transition to democracy.
How to change China to a democracy
The world for the most part backs the CCP. Multinational corporations have lobbied countless governments to ignore the regime’s abuses and to accept the idea that trade with China is acceptable. Also, while the U.S. has consistently held this position as well, it did periodically speak up for democracy and human rights. Under President Obama, though, these gestures have been suspended. The American government is openly “pragmatic.” (One would have thought that the Obama Administration would choose progressive values over corporate lobby positions.)
This means that the burden for change falls to the Chinese people. Of course, one can argue that this is as it should be. People are responsible for themselves, and if they are the subjects of tyrannical rule, they must lead the way to overthrow it.
The problem with China then is how can Chinese people who are already pro-democracy activists encourage more people, ultimately a critical mass of the population, to support this change. There are two factors here. First, the Chinese need to be taught about democracy. They need to understand the ideas on which democracy is based; why it is preferable to benevolent dictatorship; and also the different aspects and variations of the democratic system that are in use around the world. This way they will become politicized, and develop a strong desire for democracy, and through this a willingness to act, and sacrifice, to fulfill this desire.
Secondly, they need to learn that human rights are predicated on democracy. If they want human rights for China, and if their own rights have been abused, in addition to making such a demand, and protesting such abuses, they should join the movement for democratic change. The Charter 08 document and the China Democracy Party should have millions of signatures and members.
The challenge of course is disseminating this education in the face of the CCP’s propaganda and Internet blockade. It is here that the International Community can be of assistance. The Great Chinese Firewall is not impregnable. Initiatives such as the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, through which Chinese people can bypass the Firewall, are already having a large impact. (The Falun Gong is the primary organizer of the GIFC.) The democratic nations of the world, notably the U.S. (which has budgeted large sums to support the GIFC, but dispensed only a small amount), should do everything possible to create a free information flow. And, all democratic nations and groupings, e.g., the E.U., should again make democracy and human rights the foundation of their foreign policy for China.
Will China require a revolution? Must there be a pro-democracy revolution to erase the results of the 1949 communist revolution? One would hope not: that democratic change can be accomplished in China non-violently. Unfortunately, however, having hopes and dreams does not guarantee that they will come true. In the real world change to democracy has invariably been accompanied by either a popular uprising or a military coup, or both.
As a result of the global financial crisis, business activity in China began to slow down and popular unrest to escalate. I have argued for years that there should be a global boycott of consumer products from China. Call it tough love, or whatever you like, but the Chinese people do have the power to overthrow the CCP. A little push wouldn’t hurt. Then, when China is free, trade can be resumed and the proceeds used to build schools and hospitals, not guns and missiles.
Two things are certain with China. For the first, democracy is preferable to the rule of the CCP, but defeating the Party and establishing it will be difficult. All human rights groups, including the Falun Gong, Tibetans, East Turkestanis and Southern Mongolians, should actively organize – both underground operations and international diplomacy – for democratic change. Indeed, if they maintain their primary focus on human rights concerns, such concerns will never be resolved.
Secondly, we, the people of the world, can work to make a difference. If our own political leaders, because of corporate lobbying, choose to back the CCP, we can act on our own to help the Chinese people.
Other than activism within China, the biggest impetus for change will be if either of the neighboring regimes in North Korea and Burma collapse. We can help bring this about as well.
The CCP’s goal is to create a one thousand year empire, that dominates a globe filled with authoritarian allies. This is identical to Adolf Hitler’s dream. Everyone who enjoys or aspires to freedom must work to prevent this from happening.