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Chinese scholars propose human rights commission

September 22nd, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

A panel of experts from China University of Political Science and Law have proposed establishing an independent human rights commission in a recent forum attended by both Chinese and foreign human rights experts. (China Daily has more details.) If this proposal becomes enshrined in China’s constitution, that’d be a really interesting development. Below are couple of key passages from the China Daily report:

Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office, told the forum that China has made significant progress on human rights by developing its economy and enacting relevant legislation.

But Wang said problems remain with China’s human rights efforts due to uncoordinated economic development, such as the increasing income gap between urban and rural dwellers.

. . .

Respecting values and enhancing mechanisms for negotiation will contribute to protecting human rights, Wang said.

Wang stressed that the government has made international exchanges and cooperation regarding human rights a priority.

The forum, attended by more than 100 Chinese and foreign human rights experts, focused on human dignity and the diversity of culture and values.

While one may view this as mostly a domestic development, I think if this proposal is accepted, it will have a global impact. For far too long, China has been put on the defensive by Western ‘human rights’ antagonism. An organization such as proposed would formalized the Chinese view on what she thinks human rights ought to encompass. The big hint is above – human dignity and the diversity of culture and values. Note, it didn’t say anything about “freedom” and “democracy.”

Actually, many developing countries have been subjects of Western ‘human rights’ politics in the U.N.. Hence, it is no wonder in majority of the “human rights” related votes, developing countries generally supported each other, and win.

China needs focus on improving her human rights in a practical way which matches her circumstances. Through such a commission, I think she can be proactive too in driving the conversations about human rights on the global stage. “Human rights activists” in the West, especially those who are politically fixated on China, may not like this development. What irony.

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  1. zack
    September 22nd, 2011 at 00:49 | #1

    for too long, the west has ussed human rights not as a genuine desire to effect improvenment in all aspects of human rights, but rather, as a means to condescend to Asians, to patronise and indulge in schadenfreude and hypocritical highbrow moralising.

    i say we should repay kind with kind; for countries that like to play up the ‘human rights card’ let the Chinese know so they may respond accordingly, with boycotts of course.

  2. raventhorn2000
    September 22nd, 2011 at 06:36 | #2

    While I generally abhor using “sniping” as a diplomatic retaliation method, but in this case, I would agree that China needs to “investigate” and expose Western “human rights” hypocrisy.

    Western hypocrisy in this matter no longer affects ONLY China. The inevitable and terrible consequences of Western interventionism in the world in the name of “human rights” are being felt all over the world.

    While China should not counter Western Interventionism with force, China should EXPOSE the Truth behind the facade of Western “human rights”, so that OTHER nations can say “NO”.

  3. xian
    September 22nd, 2011 at 08:09 | #3

    Oh I’m all for freedom, “democracy” though… that one needs to be thought over long and hard.

    Human rights criticism from the outside should simply be ignored, even if they’re right. Chinese people aren’t stupid, I think we know what we want from society. There will always be human rights issues, it’s a work in progress. Western countries went through human rights abuses when they were in development. Here’s the part no one wants to say: Human rights in a poor, unstable country is utterly meaningless, if not plain unsustainable. Economic progress and social stability are more important than human rights. Period.

  4. September 22nd, 2011 at 08:27 | #4

    We should use the right yardstick. From my old blog,
    http://tonyp4idea.blogspot.com/2009/11/china-human-right-lover.html

  5. Lime
    September 25th, 2011 at 06:43 | #5

    Man, every commenter on this blog just agrees with each other. Just for the sake of argument, I’m going to throw this out there.

    So here’s the value of democracy, as I see it. First, human rights don’t actually exist in any universal sense, as rights are always derived from specific legal codes, and there are no binding universal binding legal codes. For example, freedom of speech, which is legally enshrined as a right in the United States (and, I suppose, a human one too) is not a right in its next door neighbour Canada, where an ironically named “Human Rights Commission” can punish perceived hate speech crimes. So if there are no such thing as universal human rights, then legal systems must (or should) derive rights from particular cultural values of the society that the legal system governs. But how to guarantee this happens? If you have a non-democratic government that maintains its rule through force, it might decide for the sake of stability and the subsequent economic benefit to its ruling class to more or less conform its legal system to the values of the people it’s governing. As an example, I think it is fair to say that since the Deng Xiaopeng period, the Chinese government has been doing this to a greater or lesser extent. But then on the other hand, a government might not: North Korea, Zimbabwe, or Syria for examples. The government might just decide to regularly brutalise its people because of an ideology held by the ruler or ruling class, or because the rulers just want to get rich quick (as in kleptocracies), or it might simply be incompetent. If the country is not a democracy, the only ways to stop this are to grit your teeth and wait and hope the next ruler will be saner and kinder, or to stage a bloody revolution. In a democracy, and I’m defining “democracy” here as a government that has some sort of electoral system that allows for the peaceful replacement of rulers when enough of the state’s population grows weary of them, you have a mechanism that avoids bloodshed or continued brutalisation. It’s nice the Chinese government currently only brutalise very, very small demographic cross-sections of the population it governs (Tibetan independence advocates and Falun Gong practicers would be included in this), and has more or less reformed its legal system to the satisfaction of the vast majority of its population. However, this doesn’t provide any guarantee that China’s rulers of tomorrow will necessarily continue to maintain a relatively unbrutal, sane government. Without some form of democracy, there is really nothing to prevent another Mao.

    I suppose everybody on this blog will probably disagree with that. If you do, without resorting to polemics or insults or enumeration of the crimes of the American government, perhaps it would be interesting to explain why.

  6. September 25th, 2011 at 07:12 | #6

    @Lime
    It is great to hear the other side of the argument. It has been too one-sided for many posts. Some posts are just not convincing and too biased.

    However, we have to agree China has improved the human rights record (at least more food on the table), esp. comparing to 30 years ago.

    When China has developed further, we will use a different yardstick. Human rights is a ‘funny’ concept and should be measured by different yardstick for different conditions.

    Do you think the human rights have been improved for folks in Afgan. and Iraq after the US intervention? Is the protest by the west on child labors beneficial to the child when it is his only meal for the day?

  7. Lime
    September 25th, 2011 at 07:54 | #7

    I don’t know Tony. I don’t know enough about Afghanistan and Iraq’s current states to comment, and for the hypothetical child labour scenario, of course it wouldn’t benefit the child. I don’t believe in the existence of universal “human rights”, because, as I said, rights are defined by legal systems, and there are currently no universal legal systems. My point though is that I believe there are good practical benefits to democracy, which should be considered by Chinese intellectuals and the public in general, and that even the governments of the most benevolent dictatorships (and I believe that China has gradually become one of the world’s more benevolent dictatorships) should be regarded with suspicion by their own people for the reasons I mentioned.

  8. Al
    September 25th, 2011 at 08:20 | #8

    Lime, but u can also see that democracy can also be “emptied” of much of its values and “check-and-balances” to remain little more than an empty shell made of elections that choose little more than faces to be presented to the public opinion…while the real powers work behind the curtain….There are a lot of ways of “brutalizing” people, and one is destroying the economy, sending large swathes of people to almost ruin, making them lose home, leaving them with little more than what is necessary to eat, or making them live in constant fear of an imaginary terrible enemy …While the big corporations and the financial powers get richer and richer (and in the meantime, some other country is brutalized to keep on sucking resources, keep the oil flowing and keep the weapons flowing)..Coming from Europe, I can’t really see much real change in the economic and also foreign policies of the different governments there, and even more so in US…
    Democracy can’t really guarantee much..unless it works flawlessly, and it requires so many many factors (US after 2001 is a perfect example of what a “democratically elected government” can do to “screw” the system, and how it can be painlessly be changed by the inside…) that it’s really really difficult to make it really work…

    Every political system really depends on the people really in power to remain “safe”..if there’s no intention to do that than, it could take more time in some systems than in others, but in the end there’s little to be done.
    Today’s chinese leadership is a much collective way of governing, much more collective and based on collective agreement than is usually thought of…so no one man can easily turn it upside down (and..about Mao..well, the usual picture of him we have in the west is not much accurate, both for ideologic and western propaganda reasons)

  9. zack
    September 25th, 2011 at 15:32 | #9

    democracy isn’t the elixir of life to all society’s ills; ppl assume that democracy is ‘more legitimate’ but how is it any more legitimate than an oligarchy? ask yourself why it is that the same families/WASPs amongst the Republicans and Democrats monopolise power in the United States?

    human nature tends towards oligarchies, doesnt matter if it’s a feudal system, communism, or democracy, all human societies develop/devolve/evolve into oligarchies.

    REgarding voters, how often do ppl loyally vote for the same party over and over again irrespective of the candidates’ views? you have your answer as to why i’m sceptical with respect to ppl blindly wanting everyone else to ‘democratize’ in accordance with western values, whilst ignoring all local cultural values.

  10. September 26th, 2011 at 06:46 | #10

    @Lime
    The child labor case is not hypothetical as it happened to my classmate in Hong Kong many years ago.

    As I said before, human rights depends on how the country has been developed. US is just the extreme on the other end. US should not use their own yardstick to judge others on human rights.

    We really do not have an ideal political system. Democratic system leads to socialism, which in turn leads to destruction as it is indicated in Greece today. The poor and the rich has one vote each and there are more poor than the rich. Guess whose welfare the politicians would take care first in order to be elected.

  11. Lime
    September 26th, 2011 at 08:33 | #11

    Tony, by hypothetical I just meant that you did not cite a specific case with your child labour scenario, so I had to judge with only the facts you presented. Democracy leads to socialism is an interesting a surprising position to take. Most critics of the American, British, or Canadian political systems tend to take the opposite view, as of course did (and sometimes still do) traditional Marxists who advocate for a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” To a certain degree I think you’re right, and Greece is not the only or best example. Britain’s economic decline under union-dominated Labour governments in the 1970s would be a could example of the possible negative effect of a democratic system on a more populous and important state. But the failure of the Labour governments to fix the economy and subsequent dissatisfaction in the population brought about the fall of their government and the election of the Tories, and this demonstrates the utility of democracy in bloodlessly correcting just such a situation. Also, I would like to point out, a limited amount of socialism can be beneficial to the bulk of a state’s population from time to time without necessarily causing the state to tank. The development of labour laws in Britain and America would be a good example.

  12. September 26th, 2011 at 13:34 | #12

    @Lime
    You said:

    First, human rights don’t actually exist in any universal sense, as rights are always derived from specific legal codes, and there are no binding universal binding legal codes. For example, freedom of speech, which is legally enshrined as a right in the United States (and, I suppose, a human one too) is not a right in its next door neighbour Canada, where an ironically named “Human Rights Commission” can punish perceived hate speech crimes. So if there are no such thing as universal human rights, then legal systems must (or should) derive rights from particular cultural values of the society that the legal system governs.

    Great. I am with you so far.

    You then said:

    But how to guarantee this happens? If you have a non-democratic government that maintains its rule through force, it might decide for the sake of stability and the subsequent economic benefit to its ruling class to more or less conform its legal system to the values of the people it’s governing. As an example, I think it is fair to say that since the Deng Xiaopeng period, the Chinese government has been doing this to a greater or lesser extent.

    Just what do you mean by “a non-democratic government that maintains its rule through force?” What ‘democratic’ government doesn’t maintain its rule through force? You mean if Texas wanting to become an independent country, the U.S. federal government would sit idly by? You see how ridiculous that is?

    Do you mean the recent riots in London wouldn’t be put down?

    You might try to respond to Al and zack above too.

    Do you consider U.S. a “democratic” country? If you do, then explain for us why the Blacks were so badly treated for so long.

    You then said:

    But then on the other hand, a government might not: North Korea, Zimbabwe, or Syria for examples. The government might just decide to regularly brutalise its people because of an ideology held by the ruler or ruling class, or because the rulers just want to get rich quick (as in kleptocracies), or it might simply be incompetent. If the country is not a democracy, the only ways to stop this are to grit your teeth and wait and hope the next ruler will be saner and kinder, or to stage a bloody revolution.

    I would bet if North Korea, Zimbabwe etc can get a chance to be accepted in the world and develop normally, they’d become ‘normal.’

    What ‘democracy’ in human history can you cite lasted more than a few centuries? What democracies exists today you think live up to your ‘brutality’ test?

    You said:

    In a democracy, and I’m defining “democracy” here as a government that has some sort of electoral system that allows for the peaceful replacement of rulers when enough of the state’s population grows weary of them, you have a mechanism that avoids bloodshed or continued brutalisation. It’s nice the Chinese government currently only brutalise very, very small demographic cross-sections of the population it governs (Tibetan independence advocates and Falun Gong practicers would be included in this), and has more or less reformed its legal system to the satisfaction of the vast majority of its population.

    Did you know that China’s Presidents are limited to 5-year terms and maximum to two terms?

    You are confusing your personal views about the Tibetan separatist advocates and the FLG advocates and the needs China has in enforcing her laws. Are you saying rapist being put in jail is equal to them being ‘brutalized?’ You may not agree with the way the Chinese view FLG or Tibetan separatist advocates. Remember, you don’t represent universal truth.

    You said:

    However, this doesn’t provide any guarantee that China’s rulers of tomorrow will necessarily continue to maintain a relatively unbrutal, sane government. Without some form of democracy, there is really nothing to prevent another Mao.

    What you said here is completely retarded. Cite one country where you think has this sort of guarantee.

  13. Wukailong
    September 26th, 2011 at 21:38 | #13

    @TonyP4: “Democratic system leads to socialism, which in turn leads to destruction as it is indicated in Greece today.”

    This is quite a surprising statement, but I think I know where you come from and I identify it as a common idea in the US. Welfare states seem to be much more reviled there. Where I grew up is certainly considered socialist by many and yet it has one of the most stable economies in Europe. Of course one can say that it is because it’s ethnically homogenous, but so is Greece.

    Obviously non-democratic systems can lead to socialism (like China during Mao and North Korea today) and also its opposite (South Korea during military rule, Saudi Arabia etc). I don’t think there’s any way to make a blanket claim that it will always lead to massive welfare handouts, and at least limited welfare is better than no security at all.

    @YinYang: “I would bet if North Korea, Zimbabwe etc can get a chance to be accepted in the world and develop normally, they’d become ‘normal.’”

    Maybe. I’m not sure about Syria, but North Korea and Zimbabwe are tricky examples. Part of North Korea’s foreign policy I understand as some sort of deterrent to threats from Western nations, the rest of it is trying to prop up a system that is a complete economic failure. They rely almost completely on China and don’t have much of an incentive to develop. Zimbabwe to me seems like another corrupt polity that’s mishandling their economy. They used to be much more favored by the West so I’m not sure if that’s why they’re so defensive, but perhaps they fell out of favor (like Libya) and now feel they have to dig in their heels.

    In a way I agree with this, though; many so-called “rogue states” have been singled out by the US and thus taken a stance against them.

  14. Lime
    September 27th, 2011 at 04:23 | #14

    yinyang, I’ll try to respond as best I can to your response. First you’re right in saying every national government defends itself with force, democratic and dictatorial alike. The individual rulers and parties that control the governments themselves don’t necessarily defend themselves with force, but the structure of the government is, so I fully concede this point.

    To Al and Zack’s comments, I can’t really respond. Al implies they he believes politicians in the US are more or less indifferent puppets controlled by corporations. Though I myself don’t believe this is the case, I can’t prove it, and I don’t think I can dissuade him from it either. Zack’s comment didn’t really address anything I said, so I’m not sure it was intended as a response to mine.

    Democracy has no clear cut definition, and this is why I provided my own. There has never been a state with truly universal suffrage, and the current list of states we tend to categorise as democratic include countries with quite radically different political systems. Basically yes, I’m defining the US as a democracy. Even in the past incarnations of its system where it was only white males who were allowed to vote, it was still functionally a democracy because enough of the population participated in the electoral system that it was sensitive and responsive to policies affecting the population’s general welfare. I’m not saying the period when women and ethnic minorities were not allowed to vote was not a good or admirable system of government, but it functioned as a democracy.

    I don’t really understand what you mean when you say that if North Korea or Zimbabwe got a chance to be accepted by the world, they would develop normally. As Wukailong pointed out, Mugabe was actually quite a celebrated figure when he first came to power after Ian Smith’s regime fell. It was only after he started massacring people that second thoughts were had. Are you really suggesting the governments of these countries’ governments would treat their people better if other countries (and I suppose you mean the US and its allies) were more friendly towards them? That’s kind of a chicken before the egg argument.

    It’s true that there are very few democratic governments that are more than a few hundred years old in the world. This true of non-democratic governments too. Democracies that live up to my “brutality test” as you put it? Well I think practically all of them. If any functioning democratic government regularly brutalised large portions of its population, the government would almost certainly lose in its next election. Of course as I took pains to state, I think there are dictatorships that also don’t regularly brutalise large numbers of their people, China among them.

    Being the president of China doesn’t necessarily make you the person in charge. Deng Xiaoping is the obvious proof of this.

    You’re right again about my mention of the Falun Gong and Tibetan Independence advocates. This was a reflection of my personal views. I’m against the persecution of political activists and religious minorities and for the persecution of rapists. I guess I’m just not used to participating in a forum where this is a controversial position to take. So once again, I concede you’re right, but this aside from my central point, which was the Chinese government is basically doing a good job acting in a way satisfactory to the vast majority of the population.

    Finally you tell me what I wrote is “retarded,” and ask me to cite one country where there is a guarantee that the government won’t start brutalising it’s population tomorrow. If you really believe what I’ve written is “retarded”, I would encourage you to ignore my comment or delete it (you are the moderator right?). There’s nothing worse than retarded comments on your blog, and for my part, I don’t really want to start exchanging childish insults.

    As for the state you wish my to cite, I’ll have to go with Britain or America, just because I’m most familiar with their political systems, but I think that almost any true democracy would work. Basically, as long there is free and fair election in the foreseeable future, the people who control a government will stand to lose everything if they abuse their power in extreme and violent ways (Al’s theory aside). The only chance you could get a government in Britain or America that could conceivably start massacring supporters of political opposition groups in large numbers, or forcing large numbers of its own people into labour camps would be if the states ceased to be democracies. Because it would be nigh impossible for a leader to use the legislative system to end the electoral institution as a result of the division of power between different groups within the government, especially in America, the only way democracy could be brought to an end would be through a coup, and there is no way to guard against a coup one hundred percent in any system. In China, it would not require a coup. It would require another individual to attain the same level of power within the Communist Party that Deng Xiaoping held, and use it less humanely.

  15. September 27th, 2011 at 05:25 | #15

    China has a very unique political system. You can call it socialism with Chinese characteristics or capitalism with Chinese characteristics, or whatsoever. The president appears to be the most powerful person, but a handful of members control the power and the succession of presidency.

    It will be debated endlessly on the benefits and the problems of such as a system. Judging from what China has done in last 30 years, we have to agree it is not a bad system. When this political party is looking for the long term of the country, we do not care how to get re-elected by buying votes to satisfy all as indicated in my blog:
    http://tonyp4idea.blogspot.com/2011/09/job-plan-that-does-not-work.html

    —-
    I could have posted same before.

    Judging from the medical care system and contrary to popular belief,

    Canadians are communists, US are socialists, and China are capitalists.

    Every one in Canada gets the same, free health care. In China, if you do not pay, you die.

  16. raventhorn2000
    September 27th, 2011 at 05:56 | #16

    “Basically, as long there is free and fair election in the foreseeable future, the people who control a government will stand to lose everything if they abuse their power in extreme and violent ways (Al’s theory aside).”

    That is true even in systems that do not have “free and fair elections”.

    Emperors in China stood to lose everything if they abused their powers in extreme and violent ways.

    But “extreme and violent ways” is a relative term, that People will tolerate abuses as long as they think they can still benefit from the system somehow.

    That “tolerance” for abuse, has nothing to do with how “free and fair” the elections are. (UK and US are good examples of that as well).

  17. Al
    September 27th, 2011 at 07:47 | #17

    @Lime ” In China, it would not require a coup. It would require another individual to attain the same level of power within the Communist Party that Deng Xiaoping held, and use it less humanely.”..wrong…since Deng’s time things have changed, the political system has become more stable and functional..u show u know very little of chinese system this way.

    And somewhat u also show to know quite little also of the inner workings of spinning and propaganda INSIDE democracies..there’s no need to segregate oppositors or create “camps” to control the power, PR methods are much more subtle (and much more functional) now, and work perfectly in keeping in power who already has the power (financial/industrial/banking complex)
    Elections are just the “exterior” of a democracy, probably the least important element of it…which can be manipulated and controlled quite effectively through propaganda, spinning, PR…as it already happens.
    And, btw, in USA, thanks to the “system”, a vast majority of congressmen and senators get reelected without much effort for many many times in a row. As for USA as a democracy..u should remember that the founding fathers (Franklin above all, but not only), never wanted to create a democracy (which they considered the “rule of the mob”), but a Republic, which a system of government regulated by laws..they kinda abhorred democracy…

  18. September 27th, 2011 at 11:15 | #18

    @Wukailong
    On why I think states like North Korea can become ‘normal’ . . . . I think we need to think what might happen in longer terms.

    Do you consider South Korea ‘normal?’ If so, then you have to believe the North Koreans are perfectly capable of being ‘normal’ too because they share the same DNA. So, then, you ask, what’s the difference between them?

    Certainly, people will point to the difference in political system.

    But I don’t think that’s it. What enabled the ‘West’ to have won the Cold War was due to capitalism. The USSR went bankrupt with the arms race.

    China is an example of tremendous progress for embracing capitalism. Would you say China is much more ‘normal’ than compared to 3 decades ago?

    I bet you’d say yes. What then makes China more ‘normal’ today than she was 3 decades ago do you think?

    The other thing that makes China more ‘normal’ is of course her opening up and integration with the world community. This, I credit Nixon and Mao. I highly doubt the North Koreans wouldn’t want that.

    Indeed, the U.S.-led alienation blocks opportunity for them to become more ‘normal.’ And, certainly, North Korea’s leaders are primary actors, and they bear majority of the responsibility for their own development.

    So, I think regardless of how abnormal a nation state is, once they get to develop, people within it will build institutions to make it a more full society. When that happens, things become more normal.

  19. September 27th, 2011 at 11:38 | #19

    @Lime
    You need to address the points made by Al, zack, because they poke massive holes in your claims about ‘democracies.’ Now, you definitely should also answer raventhorn2000’s comments right above too.

    So, you are saying it is OK for democracies to discriminate against women, enslave Blacks, or put Japanese people in interment camps, or lock them up in Guantanamo Bay without a fail trial. Sheesh, and we haven’t even gotten into invading foreign countries.

    You have done a lousy job of purveying ‘democracy’ by the way.

    Now, if you want to argue that democracy as a political system is more ‘stable’ and gives the ruling class more excuses for failures, then I will grant you that. Nobody is accountable. The president screws up, he is off the hook and voted out. Repeat this whole nonsense all over.

    If you want to argue that America as a society is much more open and tolerant of political opposition as compared to China – I will also agree with that. But that norm of tolerance and openness is very much dynamic and formed by many factors. Political system is certainly one. Economic progress is another.

  20. Wukailong
    September 27th, 2011 at 22:24 | #20

    @YinYang (#18): Personally, I think the economic and political (and perhaps social) systems of a country are an interlocking whole. Without going too much into the discussion about whether there’s really been political reform in China or not (that’s an ongoing discussion here), I think it’s obvious that the political system has gradually changed to accommodate a more law-based society that fits better with a market economy. Things like terms for members of the politburo and an internal election system is definitely more orderly than what came before, and that’s not the only thing that’s changed.

    As for North Korea, I think there’s a difference between what ordinary North Koreans and their leadership want. During the Cold War, North Korea was able to successfully get China, the Soviet Union, Japan and even some European countries to send economic assistance and technology. Their planned economy performed better than South Korea into the 1970s, when they [NK] came to a halt and could only keep their current level by outside support. The fall of the Soviet Union was a huge loss to them. While other countries like Cuba kept their system after the dissolution of the Soviet Union by liberalizing the economy a bit, North Korea kept very strictly to existing structures. We also need to consider the internal power gamers of the dynastic succession that currently exists in NK; when Kim Jong-il came to the fore, his father was still the president and this system was kept but slowly made irrelevant by him setting up the military as the center of leadership in the country. Hence the “Songun” (先军), military first policy, and a heavily militarized society.

    What I’m trying to say with all this is that North Korea is a very special case and I’m not sure they could really “normalize” just by high-profile meetings and some sort of official cooperation, like Nixon and Mao did. While I think both the US and North Korea have responsibility for the current situation, I think currently NK has to show a greater willingness to change. China is constantly reminding NK that they ought to reform instead of getting hand-outs. While I don’t know exactly what China’s leaders think about NK as such, there have been many signals of them showing disappointment with the country and the only reason they keep the relationship is as a safeguard against American expansion in the area.

    I think Zimbabwe is quite a different situation. There it would be quite possible to have some sort of “normalization” since the society is more politically diverse and reforms wouldn’t be disruptive of their society as a whole. North Korea can not really reform their economy (and I can get into greater depth about why later).

  21. Wukailong
    September 27th, 2011 at 22:34 | #21

    @TonyP4: “Judging from the medical care system and contrary to popular belief, Canadians are communists, US are socialists, and China are capitalists. Every one in Canada gets the same, free health care. In China, if you do not pay, you die.”

    LOL, well, I guess I grew up in a communist country (Sweden) then. By now, shouldn’t it have failed?

    For all the respect I have for the Chinese government, I think it’s worth remembering that it begun from a very poor base and expanded fast because of that. It’s not unique to China, it’s happened in other countries as well, but usually in the past so people tend to forget about it. By now, it’s rapidly entering the social reform stage and there are already debates and ideas underway on how to build up welfare structures (except the ones that already exist). In the long run, I don’t think any developed country can do without them or choose libertarianism as its system. And “socialist” US, as you call it, is one of the few, if the only, Western country to lack universal healthcare of some sort.

    Singapore is another example. Is it capitalist or socialist? I would say the former, but they too have many policies that can be seen as “socialist,” like government-controlled housing. Also, the PAP belonged to the socialist international for a long while before opting out. They’re mostly going for workfare instead of welfare.

  22. Lime
    September 27th, 2011 at 22:55 | #22

    @YinYang
    It’s kind of hard to respond to Al or Zack. As I said, Zack’s comment didn’t address anything I said, so I don’t think it was intended as a response to mine. Al says that I’m wrong and that you could not have the emergence of another single powerful individual in the Communist Party of China. He doesn’t however say why he thinks I’m wrong or how the Communist Party has changed. He may be right, but it’s hard to argue with that kind of statement. He goes on to restate his theory that elections don’t really matter for theoretically democratic states because the politicians are puppets controlled by the financial/industrial/banking complex. This is a conspiracy theory, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. But like most conspiracy theories, it’s impossible to prove or disprove. He may be right, but there’s no sense arguing with it. I’ll address a couple of Raventhorn’s points below though.

    Basically you seem to be misunderstanding my central argument. I’m not arguing democracy is nicer or fairer or more right than dictatorship. You can find lots of arguments why it isn’t fair without resorting to conspiracy theories. For example, in first past-the-post electoral where you have geographic electoral divisions (like Britain, America, or Canada), it’s possible for a party that has widespread support to receive no power because they were never the largest party in any one region, where as a party with very little overall support across regions, but with concentrated support in a few areas will receive power well in excess of their national support. It is even possible a party or presidential candidate to win with less overall support than their opponents because of the geographic distribution support. In proportional representation systems (like Israel), power is often divided between some larger parties and many smaller one-issue parties. In these cases the larger parties often have to compromise and concede to the demands of these small one-issue parties in order to have a functional government, even if the demands are only supported by a tiny percentage of the population. Even in a hypothetical situation where every issue was decided by a majority vote of the entire population, is it really fair if 51% of the people can always dictate terms to the other 49%?

    And of course nothing in a democratic system prevents military adventurism except the possibility that an invasion of a foreign state would have enough of an effect on the welfare of the people of the invading state to cause them to become intolerant of the government. So you’re right, democracies ain’t necessarily nice or fair. But as long as a democratic system is in place, the rulers have an interest in maintaining or increasing the level of satisfaction in the government held by the voters. In a dictatorship, you might have governments that are concerned about the satisfaction of their people in their governance. But you might not; North Korea, Zimbabwe, and the PRC before Deng Xiaoping are proofs of this.

    Also, could you explain what you mean by countries being “normal” or “abnormal” in your response to Wulaikong and your comments before? I don’t really understand it, and I’m curious what you mean.

    @Raventhorn
    Your first statement, that non-democratic governments also stand to lose everything when they over-abuse their people through malice or incompetence is something I wouldn’t disagree with when taken to its logical conclusion. When your governance gets so bad that armies of peasants large enough to overwhelm your military are willing to march on your capital, you sometimes don’t have any choice but to hack your family to death and then hang yourself from the nearest tree. However, some rulers obviously rely on abuse to maintain their governance. Mugabe, for example, relies on the intimidation and brutalisation of potential opponents and the supporters of potential opponents to stay in power. As an aside, it’s one of my own theories that advent of the machine gun could be shown to have changed the level of threat rebellions actually pose to states.

    Your second point, “People will tolerate abuses as long as they think they can still benefit from the system somehow”, I agree with even more strongly. Specifically they will tolerate the abuse of others. This is how Mugabe stays in power; the people that continue to support him and abuse those who don’t are rewarded. And as yinyang pointed out, democracies are not free of this dynamic either. Prior to emancipation, a large part of the white male voting population of the United States was content to allow Africans and the descendants of Africans continue to languish in slavery. I think it would be disingenuous not to admit this.

    Basically though, my question for you and yinyang and anyone else here is what advantage does democracy have over dictatorship if you believe there is one? Democratic governments can be incompetent, they can support the abuse of unenfranchised minorities, they can invade foreign countries and abuse people there, and they can be slave states. People on this site and elsewhere have said this, and if we’re being honest, we have to admit it’s true. However, dictatorships are just as susceptible to incompetence, military adventurism, slavery, and brutality, and in a dictatorship, there is no electorate that needs to be kept happy, so the brutality can be more widespread. Why should anyone want a dictatorial government in any country?

  23. wwww1234
    September 27th, 2011 at 23:45 | #23

    @Lime
    ===” But as long as a democratic system is in place, the rulers have an interest in maintaining or increasing the level of satisfaction in the government held by the voters. ”

    I am not so sure that is the case. Several years in power is good enough for a ruler to amass a fortune and he may happily pass on the “over-abused” to someone else.

    If so desired, further rent-seeking can easily be arranged/guaranteed by his successor, as so often happens.

  24. Al
    September 27th, 2011 at 23:57 | #24

    @Lime ” Al says that I’m wrong and that you could not have the emergence of another single powerful individual in the Communist Party of China. He doesn’t however say why he thinks I’m wrong or how the Communist Party has changed. He may be right, but it’s hard to argue with that kind of statement. He goes on to restate his theory that elections don’t really matter for theoretically democratic states because the politicians are puppets controlled by the financial/industrial/banking complex. This is a conspiracy theory, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.”
    Lime, with this kind of statement u destroy in one minute the respect u may have built and received in this forum with ur comments…cause it’s of a superficiality rarely met here. We’re here commenting, not writing political dissertations, I said why u are wrong and that the political system has changed and matured (NOT the communist party, but the political system), if u can’t answer to it, it’s because u don’t really know how the system works, and ur words sound much like excuses.
    On democracy, it’s sad to see u resort to the old cheap “conspiracy theory” story, which is the last resort of people at a loss for real arguments. Even more, I didn’t say that “election doesn’t matter” etc. (u need to read carefully and reflect on other people’s words), I confuted what u said previously: “Basically, as long there is free and fair election in the foreseeable future, the people who control a government will stand to lose everything if they abuse their power in extreme and violent ways”, cause it’s a terribly superficial statement which show a fairly shallow understanding of the system. Elections are the “exterior” of the democratic system, and that simply a fact, to state that as long they are there and are “fair and free” is to ignore the high complexity of the western democratic governing system (I would love for it to be so simple..but it’s not, and it requires a great number of elements to work properly – really free, objective and professional media; cultured, informed and civic citizens that care for the country and, at least, know how the system work so that they can see and understand what goes wrong and who’s responsibility it is..just to name a couple, which are utterly difficult to attain, and are in fact not present in a great majority of today’s democracies..And I didn’t even talk about the “politicians”..). If u can’t answer to those issues, it’s not cause they are too general or are (gasp!!) “conspiracy theories”, but cause u lack the necessary knowledge and understanding of the system u pretend to analyze, or even simply “purveying”. If u don’t see how the economic/financial complex and powers are the masters of the political stage,a pretty self-evident phenomenon (politicians are not “puppets” as u simplistically state, but often willing accomplices..and when they are not, or they really want to actually do something to change the situation, seldom they are allowed that…but evidently u know very little of this kind of issues), u simply understand too little of what goes around u, or u are simply way way too optimistic.
    Just to remember u: Hitler was democratically elected (in a harsh economic situation in Germany for sure)..then he maneuvered through propaganda, mass psychology and spinning to make the german society accept the changing of the political system…when u have deep economic crisis, desperate people and u know how to constantly create enemies and false scapegoats/culprits, it’s not that “impossible” to do that, and people also cheer at u for curtailing their freedom. Fear is a powerful political tool, probably the most powerful together with religion, and the western democracies are masters in using it (the constant creation of new “hitlers” and what happened after 9/11 is a clear example of that…)

  25. September 28th, 2011 at 00:02 | #25

    @Lime
    I have to go to sleep and I will elaborate more about my points on becoming ‘normal’ state tomorrow.

    Al and Zack’s points are valid, because you constantly refer to ‘dictatorships.’ Do you consider China a dictatorship? Why?

    You said:

    However, dictatorships are just as susceptible to incompetence, military adventurism, slavery, and brutality, and in a dictatorship, there is no electorate that needs to be kept happy, so the brutality can be more widespread. Why should anyone want a dictatorial government in any country?

    Your conclusion here is wrong. Did China enslave Blacks for 200 years? So, we see tons of extreme brutality from democratic systems too. Did the electorate restrain that? You cannot conclude democracies are less brutal.

    You have to look at the conditions for which brutality occur, and they are often results of factors that frankly have nothing to do with political systems.

    If we tally killings of human beings in the last couple of centuries – and we lump the ‘democracies’ together and the non-democracies together – which group of countries you think did the most slaughtering? By your logic, then that should decide which system is better, right? So, do you want to try this exercise?

  26. Al
    September 28th, 2011 at 00:27 | #26

    “there is no electorate that needs to be kept happy”

    Here Lime is, if possible, even more wrong…he should know that in China the political legitimacy comes mostly from how u govern and what u deliver. Chinese leadership is much attentive to “electorate happiness” and well-being, cause they know that it is from how they deliver a better life or better conditions, that they and their legitimacy to govern are judged by the people (but, here, again, one should at least know a little about chinese history and political “philosophy” before a dissertation on things he/she doesn’t really know..To analyze and judge chinese society and politics only through western eyes and western “intellectual mindset” can only lead to misunderstanding and blunders.). He should also know that historically (but somehow, for some people, it seems like history only starts from after WWII, or, at most, WWI) the chinese people have always been ready to rebel and overthrow governments/dynasties that in their eyes had lost the “mandate of heaven”..or, more normally, had stopped delivering good governance, administration and well-being.
    BTW, he’s wrong also on the non-existance of an electorate in China (just now the election of the Beijing local People’s Congress is ongoing here in Beijing…and at grassroot level in villages, village chiefs are elected in a direct way)…

  27. Lime
    September 28th, 2011 at 02:39 | #27

    Okay, well I think I’ve made my points as best I can. Thanks for reading my comments anyways. Perhaps Al is right and I don’t understand anything about China or anything else. I appreciate everyone not hurling personal insults at me anyways (aside from the “retarded” comment by yinyang).

  28. Lime
    September 28th, 2011 at 03:07 | #28

    @YinYang
    I would like to ask you to explain what you think the “conditions” are that bring about brutality from a government, if not the structure and method of governance of the government itself. As a final aside, I didn’t really want to do a body count, as my argument was theoretical but it sure seems like the number of deaths in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, WWII era Japan in its colonies, and Maoist China, even excluding war time casualties, through gross mismanagement or outright killing by the state would probably surpass that of most of the rest of the world in the last one hundred years anyways. We probably wouldn’t even have to add Cambodia or any African states. Maybe you’re looking at this differently than I am somehow.

  29. raventhorn2000
    September 28th, 2011 at 06:31 | #29

    @Lime

    “but it sure seems like the number of deaths in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, WWII era Japan in its colonies, and Maoist China, even excluding war time casualties, through gross mismanagement or outright killing by the state would probably surpass that of most of the rest of the world in the last one hundred years anyways.”

    ALL of those regimes you have just cited can be said to have risen from “democracies” of some form.

    USSR and “Maoist China” are technically classified as “the People’s Democratic Dictatorship”, albeit with some LIMITED pool of electorates. (But the very notion of “Republican Democracy” is about LIMITED pool of electorates).

    Nazi Germany rose from a Weimar Republic.

    Imperial Japan was a military dictatorship that rose from the relative Democratic reforms of the Meiji Restoration, such as installing a Parliament, but it was distorted into a dictatorship of Oligarchy.

    Surely you realize that the system of electorate (Republican or not) does not guarantee anything, and dictatorships often follow when the “people” are put in charge alone with no one accountable.

    * but you don’t bother to count the massive deaths of Native Americans and Slaves by the American Republican Democracy. (Proportion wise they are far greater in number).

    Why?

    And isn’t it odd that Chinese Emperors have been from many different cultural ethnic origins, and maintained a diverse ethnic nation for 1000’s of years (even with countless invasions and civil wars), while a Republic like Rome fell apart and gave way to an empire in less than a few hundred years??

  30. September 28th, 2011 at 07:04 | #30

    @Wukailong
    China is unique in the scale and the speed. Many countries like US and China’s competitors are caught by surprise and fail to respond to the changes. China can produce a product far cheaper than from Mexico several miles away from US. China is also challenging the products of higher value in our generation and I cannot imagine what the educated, hard working Chinese kids will do when they grow up.

    Singapore is very unique. It is democratic with single party, but you will be punished for not flushing the toilets (they have cameras every where). If you’re not fit, they will force you to exercise or else.

    India has been democratic for many years. They are still poor, uneducated… Democratic system may not be right for countries with low literary skills. How can we weigh the vote from a farmer who cannot read and one from the educated folk in the city? Most ‘democratic’ countries in Asia are corrupt. S.Korea and Japan are not too corrupt and probably the reason is their education levels.

    What I try to say is every country is different from other countries. Two democratic countries like US and India are quite different in many aspects.

  31. Wukailong
    September 28th, 2011 at 07:42 | #31

    @TonyP4: “What I try to say is every country is different from other countries. Two democratic countries like US and India are quite different in many aspects.”

    Sure. Hope I didn’t sound too nitpicking – I agree with your general analysis. 🙂

  32. raventhorn2000
    September 28th, 2011 at 08:45 | #32

    Relatedly,

    http://www.smh.com.au/world/fbi-keeps-innocent-on-terrorist-list-20110928-1kx99.html

    FBI keeps people on “Terrorist List”, even if legally acquitted of Terrorism charges by courts.

    Which means, those people are barred from entering US, getting on a flight in US, (and may get renditioned), etc.

    I guess FBI is running its own laws now.

  33. raventhorn2000
    September 28th, 2011 at 08:48 | #33

    And,

    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/09/cartels-snuff-social-media/

    Mexican Drug War goes near “Civil War” scale of Brutality, as drug lords decapitates anti-drug bloggers.

  34. September 28th, 2011 at 10:19 | #34

    @raventhorn2000
    ” And isn’t it odd that Chinese Emperors have been from many different cultural ethnic origins, and maintained a diverse ethnic nation for 1000′s of years (even with countless invasions and civil wars), while a Republic like Rome fell apart and gave way to an empire in less than a few hundred years??”

    I have thought and studied this comparison many times before and come to this conclusion. Although it might appear that the Qin empire and the Roman empires were formed in similar timeline, it is actually not true. Before the Qin, China already has gone through nearly two thousand years of being rule by one common king who is considered the son of heaven through the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasty. Of course there’s also the sanhuangwuti period before that which leave a special cultural imprint and the “long” (Chinese dragon) legacy.

    Another reason is that China gained territories by being invaded. Since the Qin, the so-called Han has always been the major ethnic group. When the Roman empire was at its peak ethnic Latin speakers accounted for a small minority of the empire, and it expanded by invading other cultural and language groups by forcing them to conform.

    Ultimately, it is the effectiveness of the government which decide the longevity of an empire. The Qin state was the first country to introduce meritocracy in place of hereditary appointment of officers. This system was to gradually evolved into the civil examination system by the Shui dynasty. It allowed people with merit to come into position of power. Of course when the system break down, and corrupt people came into the system, the dynasty fell. Have you noticed that many times the dynasty almost fell but was revived by a Confucian mandarin class which restore order and give a 2nd live to the dynasty?

    All these factors give civilization like China a very strong historical, cultural and language foundation which is not easily replicated. In India the religion served as the primary unifying force and I judge it as the closest comparison to China.

  35. raventhorn2000
    September 28th, 2011 at 10:42 | #35

    I have to disagree a little bit here.

    “Han” did not exist as an ethnic label until the Han Dynasty. On top of that Qin itself (like many other later dynastic unifiers, such as Sui and Tang) came from the Western part of China, on the frontiers of Chinese territories, usually were mixed ethnicities.

    Thus “Han” ethnicity itself was at most an artificial “ethnicity” label that rose AFTER ethnic integration had already occurred. (In other words, Qin conquered the other major ethnic kingdoms, unified China, ethnic groups integrated under 1 empire, and THEN they all called themselves “Han” when Han Dynasty came along.) So really, it’s not a “Han” Majority, when it was just a process to call WHOEVER in the majority after ethnic integration as “Han”.

    “Han” might as well be the Chinese word for “the Mixed and Integrated People”.

    *Rome simply couldn’t integrate, because they were conquering people too fast. (Plus, they still had their system of legalized Slavery, which Qin and Han basically abolished in the Early days of Chinese Empire).

    It’s virtually impossible for a nation to integrate ethnically, with legalized slavery in place. It’s way to easy for the dominant ethnic groups to segregate themselves by essentially classifying the minority groups as slaves.

    That was sort of the same problem with the Greek Democracy.

    Legalized slavery is fundamentally counterproductive to the notion of Republic and Democracy, as well as ethnic integration.

    *Oddly enough, the early Chinese emperors realized this, because they understood that Power and Authority do not come from government imposed status permanently.

    “Heavenly Mandate” meant very early on that even an Emperor will be judged by the Eyes of commoners and slaves. And also it was pointless to separate “commoners” from “slaves”, since a tyrannical Ruler would have everyone as his “slaves”, and a benevolent ruler would have everyone as his “supporters”.

  36. raventhorn2000
    September 28th, 2011 at 11:16 | #36

    Another thing:

    Rome in its Republic days did have very good ethnic integration. In its early expansions, it was “going slow” by offerring protection to the other minor Italian city states as well as offerring them Roman citizenship.

    Roman Republic rarely tried to put the Italian cities under its swords, because it simply didn’t have the military might to conquer them all, and would have probably exhausted itself in such attempts. (It did later on sack Syracuse).

    By the time the “dictators” began to rise in Rome, there were already strife between Rome and the other Italian cities, such as when Hannibal invaded Italy. But even then, it was not enough to break up the Roman Republic. Ethnic integration had already happened for too long.

    Italy did not fragment.

    But Roman Empire was different. It fragmented very quickly when the Empire started to wane in power, under siege from Barbarian Goths and Huns.

    *
    In comparison, China’s historically very slow expansion along with the process of integration made it very unified in the core.

    Perhaps it was because of “Confucian Mandarins” (I would just call them intellectuals).

    In which case, China is then, unlike other historical empires, an Empire of “Intellectual Dictators”. For we Chinese perhaps value wisdom and intelligence above all else in our past Emperors.

  37. September 28th, 2011 at 14:11 | #37

    @raventhorn2000
    I actually have to agree with you here. For lack of a better terminology, I have to use the concept Han. Yes, the term Chinese or Han never existed in any text from Xia, Shang, Zhou, Qin, or even Han time where it was mainly use to denote the court. The ancient Chinese believe in the concept of “all under heaven”. The term Han people actually come into general use in the 5 tribes 16 kingdoms period.

    Despite the abolition of mass slavery and serfdom, slavery is legal until the Qing dynasty, albeit it should be more properly called bonded servant where if payment are made the person is set free. And of course the largest slave holder being the imperial family where their slaves can only be freed by their owners. I believe the continue presence of slavery is detriment to China’s long term development.

    The Qin leap ahead of their competitors by freeing the slaves. The European abolition of slavery also gave their society an advantage. The Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman empires all contained large number of conquered subjects and slaves. So whenever the central government is weak it fell apart and never rebuild itself as the conquered subjects feel no advantage of belonging to the empire. In the Roman empire the citizens are the minority. China has no such problem. China also has the advantage of introduction a Confucian bureaucrat who observed loyalty and responsibility almost to a religious level (that’s why China never need an official religion as a rallying point). And it is unique in a sense that it is not blind loyalty to the emperor, rather according to Mengzi, if the emperor lost the mandate of heaven he is to be replaced. Mengzi is also a must study for all noble and civil exams takers.

    I would credit the rapid modernization of HK, Singapore, Korea, Japan etc due to having this Confucian bureaucrat tradition. It is not a class in a sense that any commoner can become a mandarin if he proved himself. The biggest different between China and Japan is that the latter never has a revolution that overthrow the ruler but that’s another story.

    Yes, you could say they are the intellectual elite of China. But they are all influenced deeply by Confucian teaching up to this very day.

  38. September 28th, 2011 at 14:25 | #38

    @Ray
    Anyway, I think Mengzi has been too underrated the world over. The equality concept he espoused is so ahead of time.

    民為貴,社稷次之,君為輕。
    The people is the most important, the country (or ancestral grave) second, the king the least important.

    君之視臣如手足,則臣視君如腹心;君之視臣如犬馬,則臣視君如國人;君之視臣如土芥,則臣視君如寇讎。
    If the king treat his ministers like hand and legs, the ministers would treat the king like their heart and stomach; If the king treat the minister like servants, the ministers will treat the king like a regular person; If the king treats the ministers like earth, the ministers will treat the king like enemy.

    Feel free to add better translation. I try to be faithful to the original but actually think the word earth should be substitute with shit to reflect modern language usage. LOL.

  39. September 28th, 2011 at 15:09 | #39

    @Lime
    You said:

    I would like to ask you to explain what you think the “conditions” are that bring about brutality from a government, if not the structure and method of governance of the government itself.

    Very simple. When 9/11 occurred, that led to the abuses in Guantanamo Bay. Many Americans would agree the Patriot Act took freedom away.

    Now imagine Timothy McVeigh was also financially sponsored by some rich country outside America. Also imagine the U.S. government is relatively weak. How much harsher might you think the U.S. government come down on Americans who participate in his cause?

    Do these scenarios have any bearing on the form of government? I don’t think so.

  40. September 28th, 2011 at 20:37 | #40

    @Wukailong
    I think we are discussing this becoming ‘normal’ using different time spans. I am in general agreement. This is where I have a different take.

    You said:

    What I’m trying to say with all this is that North Korea is a very special case and I’m not sure they could really “normalize” just by high-profile meetings and some sort of official cooperation, like Nixon and Mao did. While I think both the US and North Korea have responsibility for the current situation, I think currently NK has to show a greater willingness to change. China is constantly reminding NK that they ought to reform instead of getting hand-outs. While I don’t know exactly what China’s leaders think about NK as such, there have been many signals of them showing disappointment with the country and the only reason they keep the relationship is as a safeguard against American expansion in the area.

    Think of it this way. If the North Korean government collapses at U.S./South Korea’s instigation, then the chance of the current rulers ending up in the same fate as Saddam is very likely. Look at Libya now.

    Given that external threat, you’d expect every human to think self preservation first. So, I think their ‘abnormal’ behavior (say, military first) can be partly explained.

    I believe they have every bit the capability to become ‘normal.’ The U.S./South Korea drop the political and economic embargo. Give them a friendlier climate to develop. Why couldn’t they embark on a similar path China took in the last 3 decades? And, sure, society changes in lock steps with economic growth. And, that, they can undergo too.

    I feel most Westerners are simply looking forward to North Korea collapsing and have a reset like Libya.

    I believe the more responsible thing for the dominant powers to do is to find a way to integrate them into the international community.

  41. Al
    September 29th, 2011 at 00:30 | #41

    @Lime:
    “Perhaps Al is right and I don’t understand anything about China or anything else”.
    Come on, don’t start playing victim now..i never said u don’t understand anything else, don’t start with that. I did point out that u don’t know/understand much of how the chinese system works, but that’s what I can infer from what u wrote in the previous comments.. I know that being confuted is not pleasant, but playing victim is not the right way to address it…

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