Category Archives: democracy

“Han Han’s U-Turn?”

The latest to chime in on Han Han’s three essays is NYT blogger Eric Abrahamsen, who looks at the suzhi argument and writes that:

In this he’s exactly right: China’s deepest problems are cultural and social in nature, problems best addressed by reform, not revolution. It’s not that the Chinese are “not ready,” it’s that this will be a slow process.

“When the drivers in China turn their high-beams down as they pass each other on the road, they will be ready for revolution,” writes Han Han. “Of course, by then, revolution won’t be necessary.” Instead, he argues, the process will be a gradual one, in which the cultural values conducive to democracy evolve along with democracy itself. “Democracy is a long process of negotiation.”

Anyone who’s sat in on a Chinese primary school class, or a management meeting in a Chinese company, or witnessed authority being wielded at nearly any level of Chinese society, knows how long this process may be. An unhealthy deference to power is taught from an early age, as is a deep reluctance to pass on responsibility downward. The “not ready” argument is employed constantly within Chinese society, from parents who won’t let their children run in the park, to judges who aren’t allowed to make independent rulings. Many Beijing driving schools don’t include on-road training, because it would be “dangerous”— never mind what happens after the license is issued.

Sure, reform would be better than revolution- but both Abrahamsen and Han Han seem to ignore the Communist Party’s consistent sidelining of political reform. If reform is better, but it’s off the table, why are we talking about reform?

I still dislike the insinuation that Chinese people are somehow unworthy of democracy, too. The argument that Chinese people leave their high-beams on while driving seems fairly irrelevant- people all over the world do stupid things to each other. If China’s greatest problems really are cultural and social, is the CCP doing anything to address these problems?


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“Democracy Taiwan’s ‘best gift’ to China: Ma”

Haha, ok, if Ma is going to troll China like this then I guess it’s ok that he beat Tsai:

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou said this month’s presidential vote was the island’s “best gift” to China, hailing the potential for the poll to show the path to democracy on the mainland.

Ma has said hundreds of millions of people in mainland China watched Taiwan’s presidential candidates debate live on television last month for the first time through the Internet.

The poll, which saw Ma re-elected, could inspire Chinese democracy supporters, he said in a statement released by the Presidential Office.

“The peaceful election, a sign of democracy taking roots and bear fruits on the soil of a Chinese community, will make them feel that this will also happen on the mainland,” the statement said.

“I believe this is the best gift from us to the mainland.”

He added that the January 14 vote will demonstrate to the mainland that “headcount is the best way to solve differences between the two sides”.

If you define ‘best gift’ as ‘gift that fills the CCP with deep, instinctual dread’ then yes, I suppose Taiwanese democracy is a great gift indeed.

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Taiwan Elections: Ma Wins

First, from Daniel Lynch at Foreign Affairs:

In presidential elections this weekend, Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s incumbent president from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, decisively defeated Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). With about 52 percent of the vote (compared to Tsai’s 45.6 percent and the third-party candidate James Soong’s 2.8 percent), Ma will be able to govern with a clear majority of popular support. His margin of victory was far higher than most opinion polls had predicted. Many Soong supporters seem to have decided in recent days that by voting for their preferred candidate, who is almost politically identical to Ma, they might hand Tsai the victory.

For their part, voters seem to have accepted Ma’s contention that reducing cross-strait tensions improves the country’s economic well-being. Indeed, more than ever, Taiwan’s economy is dependent on China’s. This is partly a result of market dynamics (Taiwanese capital flows across the Taiwan Strait in search of lower production costs) and partly a result of the KMT and Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to facilitate integration. By the end of 2011, some 80,000 Taiwanese firms had invested up to $200 billion in mainland factories, research and development centers, stores, and restaurants. And annual trade between the two sides exceeded $150 billion. Meanwhile, out of a total population of 23 million, one million or more Taiwanese live in China. Directly or indirectly, the majority of Taiwanese households depend on Chinese economic dynamism for their livelihood.

Next, Bruce Jacobs from Taipei Times writes about what the DPP should take from the defeat:

Whether Taiwan gains more international space will remain to be seen. Will Taiwan gain better status in the World Health Assembly? Will Taiwan gain access to other international organizations? Will China continue to belittle Taiwan with terms such as Taipei China (中國台北) instead of Chinese Taipei (中華台北) or the Republic of China on Taiwan? Will Ma’s “diplomatic truce” continue to be respected by both sides so that Taiwan’s diplomatic allies do not switch to Beijing? Will Taiwanese gain visa-free status to the US? Will the US and other nations provide more ministerial-level visits?

The DPP won only 40 legislative seats, well under the 45 that the leadership privately hoped to gain. Even with the TSU’s three seats, the pan-greens have only 38 percent of the seats, an improvement on 2008, but still insufficient for a party hoping to win back control of the government. This poor result clearly indicates that the DPP must reconsider how it determines its nominations for legislative seats, a process that has failed in the past three legislative elections.

Although the DPP has made some gains, it still has a considerable distance to go before regaining the presidency. This campaign showed some substantial difficulties with the DPP and its campaign organization.

Tsai initially did not listen to advice. Thus, for example, her performance in the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) debate with Ma was disastrous. After that, she improved her debating performance, but her key aides, who controlled access to her, remained limited to three young women. These aides were overworked and blocked access to Tsai herself. On several occasions her aides proved they weren’t up to the tasks facing them and the DPP.

Tsai’s nomination enabled the DPP to begin a generational change among its top leadership. However, such a leadership change has yet to be completed. Many new leaders will emerge over the next three years, including vice presidential nominee Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全). However, in addition to a leadership change, the DPP needs to listen to a much wider range of people. The party has large numbers of people capable of making major contributions. These willing and able people must not be cut off from contributing to the party and to party decisions.

Finally, Shanghaiist translates the web commentary from mainland web users reacting to the election:

When I saw Sinopec’s 12 million RMB chandelier, I was not jealous; When I saw Guo Meimei’s Maserati, I was not jealous; When I saw the 3,000 square metre luxury apartment bought by the former chief engineer Zhou Shuguang of the Ministry of Railways in the US, I was not jealous; When I saw that the former Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun had been sleeping with actresses from the Dream of the Red Mansion, I was not jealous; When I saw the son of an official trample upon the law saying “My dad is Li Gang”, I was not jealous; When I saw the people of Taiwan elect their own president under a one-man-one-vote system, I was jealous.

If it’s at all possible to assign scores for democracy, then today’s Taiwan is probably a lot more democratic than many of the more established democracies of the world. These people are like you and I — yellow skinned, brown-eyed, speak Mandarin, and eat Chinese food. Those people that think democracy is not suitable for the Chinese people can now shut up. Those people that say democracy is not possible because the Chinese people are not well-educated enough, or that China is too unique for it, can now shut up. Those people that are still going on about how socialism is superior — please, either go to North Korea for a taste of real socialism, or shut up.

In the re-election of Ma Ying-jeou, 18 million Taiwan voters were co-stars, while another 1.3 billion mainland residents became a captivated and openly envious audience. The shouts of democracy and election that have rung day and night are like a big tight slap across our face, one that leaves our cheeks burning and our ears ringing. There is hope for democracy on the mainland. Come, everybody, let’s talk about democracy and elections on Sina, Tencent, NetEase an

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“Promoting democracy means more than exposing darkness”

Yang Hengjun in CMP:

In the eyes of some Chinese, democracy is like a roundabout. The best thing is not to talk directly about democracy, but rather to work one’s way around to it.

I’ve had young readers pipe up in conversation and lump me together with various contemporary writers or rights defense heroes. “Those of you who pursue democracy . . . ,” they begin. And I head them off by interjecting: “Look, the way I see it, this character you’ve just mentioned isn’t really someone who pursues democracy!”

At the risk of sounding curt, I’ve had enough of this blurring of lines. In China today, one of the biggest errors we fall into constantly is to assume that someone who opposes social injustice, or advocates for common livelihood issues [like education and healthcare access], or someone who opposes autocracy and the over-concentration of power must necessarily be a champion of democracy.

Over the years I’ve come across many people who oppose autocracy but haven’t in fact the least notion of democracy. In many cases they actually uphold autocracy in order to oppose it.

It would be a challenge these days to find anyone who says they can stomach corruption. The vast majority of people loathe unchecked power. But few people actually understand that democracy is the means by which such scourges can actually be removed.

A great number of academics and experts in China, including quite a few opinion leaders, are first-rate at exposing the dark corners of our society and ferreting out corruption. But deep in their bones they have little notion of democracy. Some think that we simply need to change out emperors. Some think we would be better off if they themselves were promoted to the top. Some believe we should return to the Qing Dynasty. Some believe we should turn the clock back to 1949. Others believe we should back-step to 1965 . . .

There is a clique of cynicism now emerging in China that wants to drag our people back to some beautiful past. For various reasons (for example, not wanting to be branded as traitors or slaves of the West), they refuse to move forward. They refuse to stride into the future.

I’ve said before that my favorite essay writer is Lu Xun (鲁迅). His laying bare of Chinese nature and his lampooning of rulers are unmatched to this day. But in terms of his thinking on democracy and his conception of the future Lu Xun has little to offer, whether one sets his work against his Western contemporaries or against Chinese writers and thinkers of his day.

Lu Xun’s satire cut to the quick of the Chinese character. And his vision begs the question: if the Chinese people are nothing more than a handful of Lu Xun characters, how can such a people possibly be suited to life in a democratic society? Lu Xun’s answer in the end is to hope that a master much stronger than the ineffectual Kuomintang can take the stage, a master that can help the Chinese people stand on their own two feet.

In time, China’s new master would take Lu Xun and elevate him as one of humankind’s intellectual greats. But Lu Xun is ultimately no more than a great man of letters. He is not so different from any of those many writers in Chinese history who exposed China’s darker corners and the wickedness of human nature.

I don’t mean to gainsay my own love and admiration for Lu Xun. I simply want to drive home the point that while we do need people like Lu Xun to go and expose the darkness, we also need people who can point the way to the light. The problem in China today is that so many people see the darkness even as they are absorbed by it. They are unable to see the light and step beyond the darkness.

In China today, we can choose to carry out rights defense actions, we can work to expose corruption and oppose injustice. But if we fail to see beyond this to democracy, none of these actions will carry us very far. Believe me when I say that our only advantage today over the ancients lies in our modern values and democratic institutions.

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“Neither Independence nor Unification”

Time has another piece on the Taiwan elections, which are now just more than a week away:

There’s a more crucial, cosmic element to Taiwan. It is worth defending, if not as a territory, then as an idea: that freedom is compatible with the Chinese world. Taiwan could do a better job strengthening rule of law and fighting corruption. But in many stellar ways, it is the un-China: a vigorous democracy; an alternative fount of Chinese language and culture; an arena of fiercely competitive (and partisan) media; a crucible of creativity (tech, film, food); a haven of environmental consciousness (you’ll find recycling bins on remote hilltops). Heck, even the people are nicer — literally a civil society. China has muscle; Taiwan has soul. It’s the true people’s republic.

Taiwan’s voice, particularly during elections, is strong enough to reverberate even on the mainland. The islanders take politics very seriously — it seems to suffuse their lives — because they know their votes really count. In the presidential contest, the 99% figure a great deal: Tsai and her opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) accuse Ma and his ruling Kuomintang (KMT) of pandering to Big Business and ignoring income inequality. But beyond livelihood issues, the giant shadow of the mainland looms largest. The elections are, in truth, a referendum on China.

Ma, Beijing and Washington all want the current peace to keep. Ma believes that in a globalized world, no economy can be an island. Engagement with China “carries risk,” he told me, but “it’s in Taiwan’s interest.”

Tsai, 55, demurs. She says she is willing to do business with China — on Taiwan’s terms. She thinks Ma has given away too much to an authoritarian state. “We [should] treat China as a normal trading and economic partner,” Tsai told me. “A lot of people are concerned that we are moving so close and so quickly to China that we would at some point pass the point of no return, meaning the only option is to be with China in the future rather than being on our own.” That sounds perfectly reasonable. But because the DPP advocates de jure independence for Taiwan (an extreme red flag to China), many interested parties — most notably Beijing and Washington — worry about a Tsai victory. One scenario: a return to the cross-strait cold war witnessed during the DPP’s eight years in office before Ma’s election in 2008. It’s clear to all that China and the U.S., which seldom agree on much, both prefer Ma over Tsai — Beijing because it sees him as friendlier, Washington because it doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of any new quarrel between Taiwan and China if Tsai wins.

The planet’s two strongest nations don’t have a vote, however, and neither Ma nor Tsai can impose their will on Taiwan.

Given that Taiwan is its own political, economic, military and cultural master, it’s surreal, and somewhat tragic, that such a discrete and open society cannot be a normal nation. While much of the blame lies, of course, with Beijing — which, through its clout, blocks any meaningful overseas role for Taipei — much is also Taiwan’s own doing. Two polar illusions, rooted in misguided hope, have governed the island: that Taiwan will win back the mainland and unify the two as a noncommunist state (the KMT’s raison d’être) and that Taiwan will be formally recognized as an independent country (the DPP’s cause). For too long, Taiwan has been defined by the struggle for one or the other. But now there’s a growing realization that both unification and independence are impossible dreams, so much so that you don’t hear those words mentioned in Taiwan anywhere as often as before.

Having never been to Taiwan I do wonder about the people being nicer- it’s been my experience that mainlanders are mostly very friendly. Anyone have an opinion on that one?

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“Wu Jinglian: China must move on reform”

CMP has a translation of Chinese economist Wu Jinglian’s article here, claiming that economic and political reforms are both vital to China’s future:

What drives the gap between rich and poor? I believe there are two things, the first being corruption and the second being the monopolization [of riches, resources and opportunity]. Both of these have to do with government power. The type of monopoly we have [in China] is not the outcome of free economic competition but has been generated instead by political power. Chen Tonghai (陈同海), the former CEO of Sinopec Corp, China’s most profitable enterprise in 2009, was subsequently arrested for taking bribes, and it was later found that he had on average personally used 40,000 yuan (US$6,350) of public funds a day. This should not happen according to economic reforms as they were originally intended. But inadequate reforms created this situation.

In recent years there has been a tendency in thinking that easily misleads the public, and that is that the polarization of rich and poor has resulted from the market economy. But the root of resentment against the rich (仇富) is in fact anger over corruption (仇腐). I believe entirely that certain people have willfully redirected the target, deflecting the disgust people feel toward corruption onto the shoulders of run-of-the-mill rich. Some who are rich have amassed their wealth through diligence and hard work, because they are good at what they do. Others have relied on power and position, turning public power to private advantage. Diverting public anger onto the shoulders of the wealthy not only does a disservice to general prosperity, but also has serious social consequences.

If we want to allow ordinary Chinese to prosper, moving the country in the direction of democracy, civilization (文明) and harmony means relying on economic reform, but also on political reform. We must realize the proposals made by Comrade [Deng] Xiaoping, who said in the 1980s: “Political reform and economic reform should be interdependent and coordinated. If we seek economic reforms but do not seek political reforms, then economic reforms will not work out.”

Further, I would like to emphasize the importance of building a nation of rule of law. This issue has come up against certain difficulties of late, whether one is talking about the legislative side or the judicial side. On the question of democracy and constitutionalism, we must find a path forward. The first order of business on this front is enabling a fair environment for discussion. Not only do we need to allow ordinary Chinese to seek prosperity — we must also give ordinary Chinese the courage to speak.

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“Ties to China Linger as Issue as Taiwanese Prepare to Vote”

The NYT has an article about Taiwan’s elections, which are now less than ten days away:

But when voters go to the polls on Jan. 14 — only the fifth time they have done so since Taiwan threw off single-party rule in 1996 — they will also be guided by their views on a separate, overwhelmingly important issue: whether this vibrantly democratic island of 23 million should speed, slow or halt its wary embrace of China.

Mr. Ma, 61, a Nationalist, has overseen a raft of agreements that have revolutionized the way ordinary Chinese and Taiwanese interact. There are now direct flights, postal services and new shipping routes between Taiwan and the mainland, and a landmark free trade agreement has slashed tariffs on hundreds of goods.

The agreements opened the gates to the deluge of Chinese tourists — 213,000 arrived in November, 30 percent more than in November 2010 — who buoyed the local economy with more than $3 billion in spending last year. Other firsts include a pair of giant pandas from China, an early reward for Mr. Ma’s Beijing-friendly gestures, and nearly 1,000 mainland students who now study at Taiwan universities.

The burst of contact has reawakened old sensitivities and raised new ones.

Business-minded Taiwanese know where the money is: the million or so Taiwanese now working and investing in China appear to be backing the Nationalists and Mr. Ma.

“We certainly don’t want to jeopardize the status quo,” said Liu Chia-hao, a spokesman at Taipei 101, an iconic green-glass tower that dominates the Taipei horizon. Mr. Liu said that mainland visitors packing the building’s observatory and high-end shops helped the $1.8 billion project break even three years early.

“We’d like this vibe to continue,” he said.

But warming ties have also stoked deeply rooted fears, fanned by Ms. Tsai and her party, that the island is becoming too cozy with the authoritarian behemoth next door.

“Let’s face it, China wants nothing more than to devour us, and the K.M.T. is giving us away,” Zhou Zhu-zhen, a retired nurse, said last month during a rally.

The front-runners dance gingerly around the issue of China. It emerges mostly in the form of debate on the so-called 1992 Consensus, a nebulous pact between Beijing and Nationalist Party leaders that allows both to recognize the principle of one China, bypassing uncomfortable details. Ms. Tsai, a former minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, which helps set cross-strait policy, says the arrangement is a fiction. She wants the voters to determine how Taiwan defines itself in future negotiations with China.

Although she has dialed down her party’s stridency on independence, Ms. Tsai warns that Nationalist policies are eroding Taiwan’s sovereignty. In an interview, she offered a simple example of distasteful compromise: “When Chinese visitors come, we have to put away our flags,” she said.

Mr. Ma waves off such complaints, saying that détente has strengthened the island’s global standing.

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