Is China’s political system better than democracy?

On Thursday, October 23, 2014, in A Free Tibet in a Free World, by Matteo Mecacci
At different times over the last decades there have been a number of authors, professors, politicians, and intellectuals who have supported the view that the “West” should be more considerate and respectful of the “different” political systems existing or emerging in the world, and to not assume that democracy would be the best deal for other peoples and even our own. This was certainly true at the time of the Soviet Union, when a huge number of intellectuals supported the view that "The Soviet Union is going to remain a stable state, with a very stable, conservative, immobile government," as stated in 1983 in an interview by Indiana University historian Robert F. Byrnes, summing up a book titled After Brezhnev, in which he collected essays from 35 experts on the Soviet Union. Nowadays the ranks of China’s supporters (or apologists) are rapidly rising, and we might see more coming. But what is their reasoning today? Although the Chinese Communist party has lost the appeal of its communist ideology, it is praised nonetheless for its “pivotal status, competence, meritocracy, legitimacy and efficacy.” These are the words used by Mr. Martin Jacques in an op-ed published in the Financial Times on October 23, 2014, which in essence states that the Chinese government is developing a more efficient social political system than democracy. I don’t claim that democracy is a perfect political system, and I strongly believe that all democracies (including the more established) must be constantly monitored to make sure that the laws that exist on paper are effectively implemented in the real life of citizens. But, I also believe that claiming, as Mr. Jacques does, that the Chinese Government “has presided over rapidly rising living standards and enjoys a great deal of popular support” is a highly misleading statement. While nobody can deny that China has been able to hugely increase the size of its economy and also the general living standards of the people, how can anybody credibly claim that the Chinese people support the Communist party? Are there any reliable opinion polls to which Mr. Jacques can refer us? Is Mr. Jacques aware that the Communist party cannot be publicly criticized in China, and if that happens, the offending individuals are punished? (It’s very similar to happened during the fascist regime in my country of birth). Does Mr. Jacques know that China ranks number 175 out of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index? Does Mr. Jacques know that in order for the public to be able express its view on a system of government, a space for public and free debate must be created? Finally, does Mr. Jacques know that the images of the dozens of thousands of Hong Kongers who are demonstrating for democracy (yes, just democracy, capitalism is already present there) cannot reach mainland China because they are censored? It is in the interest of the Chinese people to ensure that intellectuals, writers and politicians are able to freely criticize a government, and since those living in China are not allowed to do so, it is even a bigger responsibility for those who live abroad and have access to major news outlets. No government can last forever without the genuine support of its people. They can try to break the spirit of people by jailing those who try to defend their fundamental rights, as they do in Tibet and in China, but the aspiration to freedom and to express opinions cannot be silenced indefinitely. Matteo
Since you’re reading this blog, you already know my answer. No, this cannot be allowed and we, as citizens of the so-called “free world,” have a clear responsibility to call on our governments to expose the Chinese government’s policies in Tibet, and not to shy away from doing it. On Wednesday, we at ICT issued a new report, which documents the actions taken by China to further militarize the Tibetan plateau, as part of an extensive counterterrorism drive undertaken by China over the last months. Large military drills have been organized in Tibet to combat “self-immolation, vehicle collision, arson attacks, and mobs”, to make an “exercise of anti-terrorism and stability maintenance combat” and to combat “thugs”. If it were not tragic, it would be ironic to see this mobilization of force by the Chinese government, despite the absence of any incidents taking place in the region, neither against civilians nor against Chinese authorities. Counterterrorism trainings continue inside Buddhist monasteries in Tibet to have police “combat ready”; the teachings of the Dalai Lama have been defined as incitement to ‘hatred’ and ‘extremist action’, and self-immolations are equated to “terrorism” and “acts of significant evil”. It is not the first time that an authoritarian government has labeled any dissenting opinion about its policies as “terrorism”. What is striking is how quiet the democratic countries seems to have become when it comes to reacting and denouncing such outrageous statements like those that we have documented. Labeling a Tibetan self-immolator as a “terrorist” is the ultimate offense to people who have sacrificed their life, harming no one except themselves, to raise the attention of the international community on the plight of the Tibetan people. We at ICT will never forget that and we will never stop demanding justice. Matteo
[caption id="attachment_5521" align="alignright" width="225"]Qin Weiping Qin Weiping[/caption]In a July 17 2014 roundtable discussion on the Tibet issue held in the American capital Washington DC, I was invited to attend as a representative of young scholars born after 1980. The participants were mostly independent scholars and intellectuals who had long been concerned with and studied the Tibet issue, and veteran pro-democracy activists who were committed to promoting a democratic transition in China. In the meeting honorable senior colleagues raised many specific recommendations on how to better promote a solution to the Tibet issue, and I expressed my personal views on the Tibet issue and the Chinese transition to democracy. Because there was limited time, I wanted to share the special presentation I made there regarding the Tibet issue and the Chinese transition to democracy as a means of encouraging myself and others. Although the Tibet issue has gone on for some time, even growing centuries old, it seems that the reality appears differently in everyone’s eyes. In the eyes of the Western media and public, the issue is centered on human rights issues such as the Tibetan self-immolation protests and environmental issues which often generate shock and widespread sympathy. In the view of most Tibetans inside and outside of the People’s Republic of China, the problem lies in the vilification of the Dalai Lama and the strict repression of religious freedom. In the eyes of the United States and the democratic governments of the West it seems that criticizing the Communist Party on human rights and freedom in Tibet has become a bargaining chip, while it seems to the Chinese government that the Tibet issue is a minefield created by the Dalai Clique’s incitement of separatism. In the view of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his followers Tibetans have suffered disaster after disaster and the reestablishment of an independent Tibet has become impossible, while his attempt to find a solution by launching the Middle Way Approach was rejected by the Chinese government. In the view of the hundreds of millions of ordinary Chinese people the concept of the great reunification of China has become deeply entrenched and Tibetan independence is completely unacceptable, even while they suffer helpless despair under dictatorial rule. While many dissident Chinese intellectuals and scholars think the Tibet issue is worthy of attention and compassion, they think it needs to wait for China to achieve a democratic transition, and that it will then be resolved naturally. Just as the source of the Tibet issue is different in the eyes of all of those concerned, the ideal solution for China’s democratic transition is different in the eyes of all of those who are concerned about China’s future. Ever since the government’s Tiananman Square massacre in Beijing, the pursuit of a Chinese democratic transition has become a lifelong goal to many people. The collapse of the Soviet regime gave many people hope, and constitutional democratic freedoms became more and more popular, but the Chinese government has powerful abilities of self-correction. The success of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms led many people to forget yesterday’s pain, as improvement in the material well-being of the people allowed the Party to maintain some political legitimacy. Reaching second place in global economic output allowed current government leader Xi Jinping to start the great rejuvenation of the Chinese dream. For Western governments and people China appears beautiful to look while they endure economic depression and crises, because they’re unfamiliar with China’s internal issues, and even many long-exiled Chinese opposition figures find the country both familiar and strange. The Chinese government is currently creating the most complete dictatorship in human history, with a powerful propaganda machine and both military and police ready to point guns at the citizens at any time. Not only are hundreds of thousands of ‘group events’ successfully repressed every year, but all dissident activists and opposition figures are brutally suppressed with an iron fist. Beijing has even been exporting ‘red values’ to the rest of the world, even to Western democracies, and it has achieved some degree of influence on international affairs. Not only does the Chinese government rule 1.3 billion people like slaves, but it’s able to challenge this unsettled world at any time. I hate to admit that in reality, whether through nonviolent struggle, a violent revolution, or political reform led by the Communist Party leadership, the road to a Chinese democratic transition seems very arduous, like it’s reached a roadblock. I can’t help but to think of a fairy tale I read as a kid: A group of mice are having a meeting where they’re discussing how to deal with a cat. They all elatedly agree when someone suggests tying a bell around the cat’s neck. But finally one little mouse asks, who’s going to be the one to tie the bell to the cat’s neck? The current reality in China is that there’s a common feeling of insecurity among 1.3 billion people in all levels of society. Everyone from the elite members of the dictatorship to the common people is all envious, yearning for the true stability and harmony of the United States and other Western democracies. Even common people understand the benefits of separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches, but they have to face the dictatorship with silent resentment. Even Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai, and other senior Party members have become victims of the dictatorship, and under this system even Xi Jinping, the highest and most powerful man in the Party, government, and military has no guarantee that he won’t eventually be the next ‘tiger’ to fall in a political struggle. How to transform this superpower from a dictatorship to a democracy has become the most important historical question of the 21st century. Confronted by powerful vested interests, even someone trying to start political reform from within the Communist Party would definitely have to move cautiously, because any issues could lead to their total destruction. China’s political opposition groups haven’t made it onto the stage of history, and oppositions groups like the Democracy Party and their leaders failed to properly make their case and mobilize society. At present most ordinary citizens only protest for their rights when their personal interests have been damaged, and there is no uniform demand for an end to dictatorship and the achievement of constitutional democracy and higher political realization. So far there hasn’t been an effective exertion of pressure on Chinese authorities. How can the Tibet issue be resolved? How can China’s transition to democracy be advanced? Everyone who is concerned about Tibet’s fate and China’s future should think and take action. Every nation and ethnicity has its own interests and stances, this is clear, and the political game regarding Tibet and China has gotten more diverse and complicated. Perhaps it seems to American and Western politicians that Tibet is a card for constraining China, where you can reap short-term economic benefits for your nation or your supporters, without realizing that when the West’s constitutional democracy, freedom, and universal values are incompatible with the Chinese Communist Party’s brutal dictatorship. Through compromises, concessions, and even in trade the dictatorial regime has slowly grown- “raising a tiger leads to suffering.” If it eventually smashes the current scenario, in which the world is dominated by Western universal values, the rise of the Communist Party’s Red Empire would be a disaster for mankind. For example, seriously polluted air from China has already blown across the Pacific Ocean and affected the local air quality and weather in California. This disastrous destruction of the natural environment cannot be stopped while the current Chinese regime remains in power, and moreover, lately China has used foreign affairs to successfully start tying down and corroding the Western democracies. This man-made evil has dispersed and spread, and indeed Western values and human civilization have already begun facing serious challenges, and many Western media outlets and politicians who look only at short-term benefits are bowing to the Chinese Communist Party. There is great uncertainty over the future of the world. Written records detail the development of human civilization over thousands of years, but the recent century of change has had a great impact on the natural and political environments. In particular there was World War II, which resulted in the death of more than 50 million people. If it can be said that the future of world history will include the words of the third world, I believe that the one-party dictatorships in China and Russia are starting to challenge the world order as an “axis of evil.” This time, though, the people of the world and their governments could be too weak and unwilling to foot the bill. Today’s world requires far-sighted, intelligent, and brave leaders who are willing to stand up, provide genuine support for Tibet, and provide genuine support for China’s transition to democracy. This would not only be beneficial for the Tibetan people, it would also be beneficial for the Chinese people and the people of the world. I believe that, since the Chinese democratic transition has experienced some difficulties, with democratic forces in China and overseas very weak and with the Communist Party battling human rights activists on many fronts, it might be better to work with the Tibetan government in exile and the world to resolve the Tibet issue by facing China’s power together. First the focus should be on finding a solution to the Tibet issue, because cutting off one finger is better than breaking all ten. Because of the great influence of the Dalai Lama across the world, and because the Tibetan government in exile “isn’t seeking independence, but instead seeking a middle way of genuine autonomy within the Chinese constitution’s ethnic autonomy system,” by including the international community and various opposition groups in China and abroad, with the entire world making joint efforts to promote dialogue and negotiations between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, they might just be able to put aside their political differences and allow the Dalai Lama to go on pilgrimage to Wutai Shan, etc. Breaking the present political stalemate is the most important priority for resolving the Tibet issue. This political game isn’t one in which you die and I live, but rather the pursuit of a win-win scenario. The Tibet issue is one which the Communist Party must solve, and the idea that it will fade away once the Dalai Lama dies is very naïve. I believe that with His Holiness the Dalai Lama using his high moral character to insist on the Middle Way Approach of not seeking independence, the complicated Tibet issue can currently be controlled. While He represents the Tibetan people and insists on peaceful dialogue and negotiations, if this process drags on for too long the voices of Tibetans insisting on independence will rise and the situation will become more difficult to control. The Dalai Lama insists on non-violence and the use of dialogue to resolve problems because of his upright character and political wisdom, but this doesn’t mean that other Tibetans won’t find other means to pursue independence or ethnic self-determination. The next ten years could be a golden era for resolving the Tibet issue. I hope that both the Tibetan exile government and the Chinese government will pay sufficient attention to this issue, because Tibet needs a way out. Meanwhile the Communist Party dictatorship and other interest groups need an escape route, and if dialogue can resolve the Tibet issue and gradually promote the Chinese democratic transition it will be a blessing for Tibetans and for China. But if one party refuses dialogue, or creates an invalid dialogue, I believe that it would be very important to adjust the strategy and find other possible means for pursuing the freedom of Tibetans and all Chinese people. From my observations His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been showing goodwill towards the Chinese government, and the Tibetan government in exile has occasionally stressed that it is really pursuing autonomy through the Middle Way Approach and not demanding independence. No matter how bad the situation is for Tibetans inside and outside of China, they have always exercised great restraint. When seeking dialogue, the Chinese government cannot ignore this. Indeed, dialogue is the method we would all like to see, but if the Party stubbornly smears and rejects dialogue then I would strongly recommend and support any possible means the Tibetan government in exile could use to pursue freedom. We mustn’t forget that 1.3 billion people have the natural right to use violence to overthrow a tyrannical government. No one wants to use harsh violence to resolve the Tibet issue or the Chinese democratic transition, but we believe that justice must triumph over evil. When there are no other options, we must use the sword even if it breaks bodies and bones. *This is a translation of the article in Chinese that appeared on Qin Weiping, pen name Qin Bang, was born in Hubei Province in February 1980. A former news reporter, young entrepreneur, and independent economist, he is an advocate of nonviolent democratic revolution in China.

China’s bullying backfires in South Africa

On Wednesday, October 8, 2014, in A Free Tibet in a Free World, by Matteo Mecacci
Last month the government of South Africa, for the third time, denied an entry visa to the Dalai Lama. This time he had planned to participate in a meeting with his fellow Nobel Peace Laureates in Cape Town. Previously, Reverend Desmond Tutu had invited him. Clearly, in all cases, there was no legal basis for these decisions, as demonstrated by the ruling of a South African Court where a dear friend of Tibetans, Hon. Mario Ambrosini (who recently passed away Obituary: Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, South African MP and a strong supporter of the Tibetan People) had lodged a complaint. Although the South African Government denies it, denying the Dalai Lama a visa was an accommodation to China and so it is an act of arrogance by Beijing implemented in Cape Town. But while other times the decision did not backfire, this time was different. The difference was that the Nobel Peace Laureates could not remain silent in front of such outrageous injustice perpetrated against one of their own. Moreover, having South Africa, the country that defeated apartheid and decades of discrimination, align itself completely with an authoritarian country that goes around the world to bully exiled Tibetans, was too much for everybody. At ICT we expressed our view immediately (South Africa’s denial of visa to Dalai Lama undermines Nelson Mandela’s legacy). Our view is that politics cannot be reduced only to trade and business deals and relations, which we know are important. Politics is about caring for the people who need help. Solidarity among nations and peoples is a moral value that cannot be dismissed in the name of money. If it is dismissed, it means that a democracy is already losing its soul and the foundations of its legitimacy. All democratic countries must remember this while they are facing the aggressive rise of China on the international stage. The more you appease a bully, the more it will bully and damage you. So, bravo to the Nobel Peace Laureates who stood up and decided not to attend the meeting and bravo to the committee for suspending it. The town of Cape Town should also be lauded for standing firm to those very principles that brought freedom to the South African people. Also for China there is a lesson to learn. The Chinese government cannot impose unjust values on other peoples and nations and not to expect a reaction from their civil society. Be careful: not everybody is for sale on this planet, even in the country that you think you control. Matteo