“Separation of Powers? The dragon doesn’t believe it exists.”

Great post from ChinaRealPolitik about separation of power in Beijing:

I think a fair proportion of senior CCP members don’t believe it truly exists. Anywhere. When foreign governments talk about the rule of law and independent institutions, I rather suspect many Chinese officials believe this is a ploy to lecture China, as they actually can’t comprehend of a system where those ‘in charge’ can’t make decisions in areas outside their sphere of influence.

Norway is taking China to the WTO over claims that China is imposing import controls on Norwegian salmon, in retaliation for the Nobel Committee’s awarding of the Prize to Liu Xiaobo.

Here’s the thing – it was an independent committee. The Norwegian government had no say over who the Peace Prize committee chose. Yet, the Chinese government remains determined to punish Norway. There are a number of possible reasons, all of which may be true to certain degrees. There are probably Chinese officials who genuinely think that the Norwegian government was somehow complicit in the decision. Some think that pressuring the government will result in the government pressuring the committee (smarter, but still underestimates the resilience of the separation of powers, which tends to be pretty strong in Scandinavia). There are also some who are angry and want to punish Norway whatever way they can, and as always, a significant number who are doing it to demonstrate their nationalist credentials.

This is far from an isolated case. Remember Lai Changxing? He was a Chinese criminal kingpin who went into hiding in Canada. The Chinese government wanted him back and seemed to genuinely think that the Canadian Government had the power to wrest him from the courts and hand him over. Citing comments from Canadian officials, Sinocism quotes a book which said:

“‘They never, never, never got it that we could not force the outcome, right up to Zhu Rongji and the highest levels. It was beyond their comprehension. They just did not believe that we cannot tell our courts what to do.”

It brings to mind a discussion I had with a Chinese friend of mine. It was around the time Obama’s ratings were starting to take a hammering, and I mentioned that there were probably a few news commentators on the Fox network who would be gleefully preparing reports on that. My friend asked quite honestly why Obama didn’t just close down Fox news. I wasn’t quite sure where to begin answering that, but in fairness, she wasn’t somebody who follows the news closely – but I think she does represent a fair sampling of how many ordinary members of the Chinese public think governments – all governments – operate.

Rule of law and separation of powers are the two things that would completely turn China around, even if they kept a one-party system. It’s pretty much my refrain here, but without these concepts I think China is in for a rough decade or two.

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Filed under Communist Party, courts, political reform

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