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China why haven’t pro-democracy movements been able to take root?


Ser Scot A Ellison
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10 hours ago, Erik of Hazelfield said:

Is it really true though that democracy is some uniquely Western/European thing?

Largely, yes. At least successful, long-lasting ones. Having countries adopt democracy for a generation isn't a special thing; having it last and be a tradition that they actually want to keep is. Democracies are very fragile and easy to break, largely because all it takes is one major party to decide that democracy isn't actually as valuable as power. Leveraging the power to make yourself more powerful at the cost of democracies is a very standard way that those democratic institutions fail. 

10 hours ago, Erik of Hazelfield said:

Of course you can argue that many democracies outside Europe are founded on the legacy of colonialism, where Western ideas already existed once those countries became independent. But every country’s road do democracy has been different. Taiwan and South Korea developed democracies from military dictatorships. Japan was an extremely authoritarian society, was democratised by force, yet democracy stuck around there. (Afghanistan - well, different story.) Thailand has drifted in and out of democracy, Indonesia has their own version of buddhistic democracy and so on. All those countries are very different from the Western philosophical traditions.

And none of those countries have been democracies for very long with the exception of Japan. In all of those cases as well a primary reason they went to democracies was to align with the US model and be closer allies to the US. Japan effectively had a democracy forced on them, as an example. Taiwan basically needed to go democratic in order to win US support and military power. South Korea was in a very similar boat. 

As to Thailand and Indonesia - Thailand was ranked #72 in overall democratic behaviors, Indonesia #52 (and just one rank below Poland!) Both are considered 'flawed' democracies (as is the USA) by the report. To be fair that's where most democracies land - partially because of backsliding, partially because of resources, partially because of not-real democracies. But holding them up as ideals is probably not a great tactic. Thailand is almost what they consider a 'hybrid' regime, which is really not a democracy at all. 

I guess that'd be my question: of the non-Western countries out there (or heck, of the western ones!) which would continue to be a democracy if all of a sudden the US decided to be autocratic or not care about promoting democracy? The answer, depressingly (especially as we've seen in Poland and Hungary) is 'not that many'. 

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And from that report, a relevant discussion on China:

Quote

China has confounded the expectations of many Western analysts and governments who believed
that it would become more democratic as it became richer. On the contrary, it has become less free.
China is classified as an “authoritarian regime” in the Democracy Index. It has a total score of 2.21 (on
a 0 to 10 scale), down from 2.97 in 2006, and sits in 148th position (out of 167), close to the bottom of
the global rankings. It has a score of 0.00 for electoral process and pluralism, one of the five categories
across which our model measures the quality of democracy in every country. China eschews electoral
democracy: it does not have free elections or universal suffrage or a multiparty system. It has a score
of 0.88 for civil liberties: there is no free print, broadcast or social media, no freedom of expression
and there are restrictions on the internet. There are no free trade unions, no independent judiciary
and no real equality before the law. The state does not practice religious tolerance and routinely uses
torture. Property rights are not guaranteed: in 2021 a state crackdown on entrepreneurs under the
“Common Prosperity” campaign led to a downgrade in this score. The only civil liberties that Chinese
citizens enjoy are those of “basic security” and freedom to study, work and travel (though these can be
circumscribed by the state).
China’s best score in the five categories of our index is for “functioning of government”, for which
it has a score of 4.29 (on a 0-10 scale). This compares with a score of 6.43 in the same category for the
US, one of the more dysfunctional leading democracies when it comes to the quality of governance.
The average score in this category for the democracies that make up the G7 group of major economies
(Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US) is 7.55. China lags behind the major Western
powers in this rubric of our index not because its bureaucracy is inefficient: on the contrary, by any
measure of state continuity and competence the Chinese state must be judged among the best in the
world. It is the absence of any mechanisms of accountability, checks and balances, or transparency—
the key features of democratic governance—that account for its lower score compared with the US
and Europe.


The main claim of the Chinese system over its Western counterpart—that it facilitates fast and
efficient decision-making as well as long-term planning to maximise economic returns, stability and
security—depends on the elimination of any mechanism of democratic accountability. Chinese leaders say that the Western electoral democracy model produces inferior leaders, time-wasting deliberations and a lot of gridlock. It is true that the democratic governance model does not always work that well, but at its best it can work very well and produce excellent results. The average global score for the functioning of government category in our index has been declining for many years, but this masks considerable variation between high-performing and poor-performing countries.

A distinctive feature of the Chinese polity is the unique character of the state, both in terms of its historical continuity and its ability to stand above the people and avoid any form of democratic accountability. Neither in its imperial nor its post-1949 communist form has the state ever been obliged to be accountable to the people. Instead of any mechanism of accountability, there is a de facto social contract between the state and the people, in which the state is expected to deliver economic growth and raise living standards. The state is seen as the guarantor of the country’s stability and is a source of pride: in our index, China achieves the maximum score for indicators related to public confidence in state institutions. As opposed to the Western governance model, which is based on electoral democracy and representative political parties, China repudiates popular sovereignty in favour of a combination of political authoritarianism and technocracy. In his 2015 book, The China model: political meritocracy and the limits of democracy, Canadian scholar Daniel A Bell extols the virtues of what he labels China’s “political meritocracy”. The aim is to select and promote public officials with above-average ability, a sort of super-technocracy, through a rigorous process of selection via exams and performance evaluations. They are tested in various roles at lower levels of government in the provinces over many years. Those who get results at regional level—and, more importantly, demonstrate political loyalty— are given opportunities at the centre.

 

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5 hours ago, KalVsWade said:

And none of those countries have been democracies for very long with the exception of Japan. In all of those cases as well a primary reason they went to democracies was to align with the US model and be closer allies to the US. Japan effectively had a democracy forced on them, as an example. Taiwan basically needed to go democratic in order to win US support and military power. South Korea was in a very similar boat. 

While I think Erik makes a good point that democracy isn't an inherently "western" idea, in these three cases, yeah, the westernization of each was very much in their geopolitical interest.

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6 hours ago, KalVsWade said:

Largely, yes. At least successful, long-lasting ones. Having countries adopt democracy for a generation isn't a special thing; having it last and be a tradition that they actually want to keep is. Democracies are very fragile and easy to break, largely because all it takes is one major party to decide that democracy isn't actually as valuable as power. Leveraging the power to make yourself more powerful at the cost of democracies is a very standard way that those democratic institutions fail. 

true enough, and for extra fun, these local parties need not even need decide that for themselves. kennedys modernization theory based doctrine for distributing “aid” to third world nations did wonders for crushing nascent democracies across the globe

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So the takeaway is that it’s possible to convince countries to be democratic just to play nice with the US?

I’m not sure I’m buying it. If that was the case then surely sanctions and threats would have a better effect than they do?  What’s the secret sauce to pushing democracy in other countries? Why did it work in some cases and not in others? It’s an honest question. Can there be something learned here?

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5 minutes ago, Erik of Hazelfield said:

What’s the secret sauce to pushing democracy in other countries? Why did it work in some cases and not in others? It’s an honest question. Can there be something learned here?

Honestly the secret sauce with Taiwan and South Korea, and arguably even Japan, is simply preferring the US over China.

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11 minutes ago, Erik of Hazelfield said:

So the takeaway is that it’s possible to convince countries to be democratic just to play nice with the US?

I’m not sure I’m buying it. If that was the case then surely sanctions and threats would have a better effect than they do?  What’s the secret sauce to pushing democracy in other countries? Why did it work in some cases and not in others? It’s an honest question. Can there be something learned here?

Part of it was that they weren't just having to play nice - it was that they do what the US says or they no longer exist as a country any more. And to be fair that has happened in other places, like Iraq and Afghanistan. It lasted as long as the US could still care and still accept the cost.

Later on, countries became so dependent on the US for their economy that angering the US would be a death knell for different reasons. That's likely why Japan has remained democratic. That and Japan has largely been prosperous. 

But really the same is true for why North Korea has stayed vaguely communist or why eastern Europe was communist or why Cuba was communist. The political viewpoints were very much at the barrel of an externally held gun. It's conceivable that Japan and Korea would have developed that way on their own, but it's not a guarantee and is probably unlikely. 

A more interesting counterpoint is the south American and Latin American countries, which are really all over the board. Costa Rica is more democratic than the US at this point and has been so for quite a while - why? It isn't particularly a US military target, wasn't focused on by the Cia, doesn't have a lot of strategic value, etc. In fact the US largely has left it alone. It has no army and it has national Healthcare. Why did it go democratic when Nicaragua had such issues and Panama was propped up by the US? On the other end you have Nicaragua, or Venezuela, or Brazil, and then you have things like Chile which has had extremist right and left leaders and wants neither of these.

So it's not just gunboat diplomacy, but that is definitely the case in some of the more successful ones. And drearily it also likely means those countries will probably not stay democracies if the US continues its decline towards autocracy and isolation.

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13 hours ago, KalVsWade said:

As to Thailand and Indonesia - Thailand was ranked #72 in overall democratic behaviors, Indonesia #52 (and just one rank below Poland!) Both are considered 'flawed' democracies (as is the USA) by the report. To be fair that's where most democracies land - partially because of backsliding, partially because of resources, partially because of not-real democracies. But holding them up as ideals is probably not a great tactic. Thailand is almost what they consider a 'hybrid' regime, which is really not a democracy at all. 

Thailand is actually a good sample for a working democracy. Their king has basically ditched the country and elects to live most of the year in Germany, a democratic state. (okay in Bavaria, but even they are nominally a democracy)

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17 hours ago, KalVsWade said:

I guess that'd be my question: of the non-Western countries out there (or heck, of the western ones!) which would continue to be a democracy if all of a sudden the US decided to be autocratic or not care about promoting democracy? The answer, depressingly (especially as we've seen in Poland and Hungary) is 'not that many'. 

For Europe I can be reasonably sure that answer would be "almost all of them". It's not like US is only lighthouse of democracy in the world, and other countries can only be democratic if graced by light shining from it. Each of them had their own path towards - or away from - democracy.

While yes, Poland and Hungary are pretty authoritarian - there are many historical and societal reasons (largely independent of US) why that is the case. Specific circumstances made each of them what they are, and thinking other European or western countries would follow suit without USA's influence is overly simplistic.

While I don't know enough to comment on Asian or South American countries you mention, that's some interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing it.

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5 hours ago, Knight Of Winter said:

For Europe I can be reasonably sure that answer would be "almost all of them". It's not like US is only lighthouse of democracy in the world, and other countries can only be democratic if graced by light shining from it. Each of them had their own path towards - or away from - democracy. 

And yet virtually every single Western democracy has backslid in the last 20 years, and drastically so in the last 5. 

5 hours ago, Knight Of Winter said:

While yes, Poland and Hungary are pretty authoritarian - there are many historical and societal reasons (largely independent of US) why that is the case. Specific circumstances made each of them what they are, and thinking other European or western countries would follow suit without USA's influence is overly simplistic.

In the case of EU countries a lot of it is going to be about the EU's influence. And as we're seeing with Hungary and Poland, that is pretty limited. But the idea of 'specific circumstances' is exactly why the idea of China going democratic is so ludicrous; democracy - and its ability to exist for a long period of time - is really rare, dependent heavily on the history, culture, ethnicities and geopolitical landscape per country, and is not a given or even a common value.

More importantly the thesis - that affluent people tend towards democracy - needs to be challenged. The notion that democracy is a natural end state of developed nations also needs to be challenged. It may be the case that democracy as the government that the world needs should be challenged, given some of the dysfunction in some countries. 

 

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how and where does the USA promote democracy? how are the USA a becon for democracy? for example, in latinamerica we have demoratic countries in spite of the USA atempts to undermine, actually, undermine is partially correct, cuz in many cases the USA actively destoyed it.

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2 hours ago, Conflicting Thought said:

USA atempts to undermine

People fear this is what's going to happen to the lefter party that recently won the Colombian presidential election.  The aristos / long time ruling class has already been begging for US assistance to rid the world of this terrorist threat to democracy -- which btw, includes a Vice President who is a woman, Black, from the poorest region of the country

 

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I disagree with some of the posters here implying, directly or indirectly, that China has a good system of governance, can learn nothing from the Western democracies, is no worse than the US, or some combination of the above.

That is a load of horseshit. China is one of the world’s most repressive states. It has an imperialist agenda, commits cultural genocide in Tibet and Xinjiang, uses forced labour and concentration camps in the latter, violates the agreement to keep Hong Kong free, threatens to go to war against Taiwan, follows a ridiculous zero-tolerance covid policy, has no freedom of speech, has a horrible environmental record, tries (and succeeds) to export their censorship  abroad (Hollywood movies don’t criticise China nowadays for fear of being shut out from the Chinese market), kidnaps other countries’ citizens, spies on its own people, spies on foreign people and companies, refuses to acknowledge its role in the Tiananmen square massacre, has an increasingly megalomaniacal leader who wants to stay for life, and so on and so forth. Despite all of its recent success and the country’s richness in history, culture and geography, China’s system of government is a cesspool of lies, corruption, arrogance, misguided pride, bullying and disregard for human rights. How anyone can have any trouble acknowledging the superiority of democracy over this abomination of a governmental system is beyond me.

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56 minutes ago, Erik of Hazelfield said:

How anyone can have any trouble acknowledging the superiority of democracy over this abomination of a governmental system is beyond me.

Part of it is believing the Communist Party's own hype about "democracy is inferior", but mostly is because"AMERICA=BAD, therefore anyone that opposes it is good" mentality that affects a lot of the Western left.

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2 hours ago, Erik of Hazelfield said:

I disagree with some of the posters here implying, directly or indirectly, that China has a good system of governance, can learn nothing from the Western democracies, is no worse than the US, or some combination of the above.

That is a load of horseshit. China is one of the world’s most repressive states. It has an imperialist agenda, commits cultural genocide in Tibet and Xinjiang, uses forced labour and concentration camps in the latter, violates the agreement to keep Hong Kong free, threatens to go to war against Taiwan, follows a ridiculous zero-tolerance covid policy, has no freedom of speech, has a horrible environmental record, tries (and succeeds) to export their censorship  abroad (Hollywood movies don’t criticise China nowadays for fear of being shut out from the Chinese market), kidnaps other countries’ citizens, spies on its own people, spies on foreign people and companies, refuses to acknowledge its role in the Tiananmen square massacre[s], has an increasingly megalomaniacal leader who wants to stay for life, and so on and so forth. Despite all of its recent success and the country’s richness in history, culture and geography, China’s system of government is a cesspool of lies, corruption, arrogance, misguided pride, bullying and disregard for human rights. How anyone can have any trouble acknowledging the superiority of democracy over this abomination of a governmental system is beyond me.

lol

Edited by outsourcing consent
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9 hours ago, Erik of Hazelfield said:

How anyone can have any trouble acknowledging the superiority of democracy over this abomination of a governmental system is beyond me.

Very very easily. Or do you imagine you could just explain some of the injustices going on in the 1890s US and get the average citizen to lose faith in their government over the plight of the Lakota and socialist labor advocates? Could you explain  to a Trumper that their are kids in cages at the border at get them to do something with no personal stakes such as simply cast a ballot against Trump. These in an open society where you can advocate for these things. I worry this comparison might be dismissed as Whatboutism but I'm really not trying to say "both sides bad" just why your list might not be as effective as you might thinkwhen talking to PRC citizens.

The average Han Chinese does not feel repressed. Yes there are places you can go in China that are like people imagine. Xinjiang. I've been there. There are police on every corner and a palpable feeling of repression and terror in the air. Some people don't use social media for fear of government monitoring. People there would love your list. The thing is Xinjiang is 1% of China's population outside of there people don't feel it. I wrote it before but the average Chinese can do what they want. Yes you would feel repressed and certain groups do, Lawyers, Academics and such feel constricted but the average citizen doesn't. there isn't anything they'd want to do that they can't. Advocate for politcal freedom you might say? Well doing that is like advocating Athiesm in 13th century Europe. First most people wouldn't think to do it, second the consquences for doing so are pretty severe and likely  not worth it, and third those who overcome the first two points are so different from those in average society that they can't get much traction anyway. Westerners always want to focus on point two which  exists don't get me wrong but you have to see the rest to get a full picture. 

What is good governance?  I've seen it said not just here  but other places that China can't have it because it's not a democracy. But until recently that wasn't a metric people used. people looked at infastructure, justice, prosperity. As developing countries go China is  one of the most functional. And honeslty on an institutional and infastructure level is approaching a developed country with GPD being the big lag. The instititutions largely work as advertised in clean modern facilities. I've been to places both dictatorial and democratic where bribes were required for basic services. There are no slums or homeless encampments in cities, and almost everyone can live better than their parents. Is it so hard to believe that a population with zero democratic tradition might buy into that?

As for the justice  system it is literally the best it has ever been. Name a time in Chinese history it has been better. The government since Deng has been making significant progress in improving rule of law and reducing the arbitrary nature of the system. Unless you've run afoul of some bigwig or the case is politcally charged your likely to recieve a sentence according to what the law says. The US has more prisoners then China despite having a third of the population. I bring this up not to say the US is evil or worse but to show that for most Chinese risk of imprisonment is no greater and indeed less then the US. Which causes people not to fear the justice system, there is no Stasi or Cheka omnipresent and feared because it's not needed.  

History has not ended in China. We use the word dictatorship/authoritarian/non-democratic regime  interchangeably but most governments fitting these discriptions are corrupted democracies, who on paper have elections but in reality have been subverted by their rulers. China functions on paper pretty much as it does in reality as a Marxist-Leninist one party state practicing democratic centralism under Lenin's model.  Students are taught their political system and why it's awesome. And brings a lot of buy in. When I lived  in Tajikistan, a tinpot dicatorship if their ever was one, this kind of thing would never work as the governmental system was obviously a lie and a farce. Soviet Indoctrination and proganda tried to prop up a failing system.  The combination of propaganda, honesty  (for the most part) and success (for the most part) have created a potent elixer of support and acceptance. This allows the government to get away with the atrocities they do commit with minimal fuss or knowledge.  

There are those who are going to read this as a full throated defense of China it's not. It's an explanation that their system is largely working as they want it to and is thus a lot stronger then most want to believe. So much of the modern commentary on China boils down to "they are evil so they will fail." All my life I have read hand wringing articles in western media to the effect of; "Now that China is rich, why have they not risen up and overthrown their totalitarian nightmare government?" Which is about as useful as asking why the terrorists hate us for our freedom. It ignores the fact that most Chinese don't see their government as a totalitarian nightmare and are thus unlikely to rise  up anytime soon.

Edited by Darzin
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To be clear, I agree with most of the things you just said. I don’t have any trouble understanding why the Chinese would see their government as superior to democracy (which is, after all, the topic of the thread). Economic growth, nationalism and propaganda is a recipe for popularity for any government, even if it throws some minorities under the bus. Insert your favourite example here.
 

I just cringe when people who live in real democracies defend the idea that China is no worse than the Western democracies, because that implies economical growth is all there is and that human rights like freedom of speech, the right to choose your government, tolerance for other political views and so on don’t matter. And that’s where I disagree.
 

6 hours ago, outsourcing consent said:

lol

Case in point.

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On 9/19/2022 at 12:11 PM, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Thank you for your contribution to this discussion… :worried:

To be clear, I was being facetious about Shaq, but by coincidence the description I gave in first post does actually also fit Lebron James perfectly.

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Of note, the US was often the black-light beacon of anti-democracy/authoritarianism throughout the Cold War, routinely overthrowing democratic governments for despotic murderous regimes in cases where the former leaned too left for US comfort, where US material interests were threatened by democratic will, or both. So if you apply US CW policy/priorities towards states like Iran and Gutamala, you could easily end up ~ making the same arguments that Chinese apologists make today, or arguably worse. 
 

 

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