The following link is an interview of Helmut Schmidt. It’s rare and refreshing to see a Western politician speaking so freely and honestly about Democracy. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/01/china-democracy_n_5067120.html
Based on the above interview, Bill, a thoughtful friend of mine, pretends to be an interlocutor shadowing Herr Helmut Schmidt with his own comments, excerpted from the interview. The result is well worth sharing:
I think it is astonishing and encouraging that you are required to change the leadership every 10 years and that you replace the elder leaders by younger ones. Nobody stays in power any more as long as Mao of Deng.
On the other hand as a foreigner, as the European as I am, I really have no in depth knowledge of Xi Jinping, and I don’t know what kind of people he has surrounded himself with.
One can compare China leadership selection and term limits with the world largest democracy India and world’s most powerful, the US. Even when a leader is voted out of power, the political dynasties of Ghandis, Longs, Roosevelts, Rockefellers, Kennedys, Harrimans, Bushes, etc. continue to exercise power. Family dynasties dominating established democracies morph into ossified institutions as enterprises, foundations and think tanks. They never have to share power with voters or pay attention to their grievances of social inequality. Someone like Sheldon Adelson and Koch brothers give hundreds of millions every two years to hire and fire politicians to consolidate their personal and family influence. One-man-one-vote is often just environmental noise in democratic politics.
China tries hard not falling into this trap. But her chance of success is also in doubt. Xi Jinping’s chooses his own advisors. However, all leaders, democratic or authoritarian, are beholden to kingmakers and the most powerful stakeholders. They could make or break Xi, though to a large extent he is less vulnerable than Western politicians. The 10-year term limit is meant to give Chinese leaders a longer leash to experiment. However well intended and altruistic, Mr. Xi must move the country forward in the next 10 years. That means he is still constrained by many rules of the perpetual power game. History may glorify leaders’ selflessness. Yet human condition and initial conditions of nations to a large extent define all leadership and social agendas.
Getting real on my end is not the same as being cynical. Mr. Xi’s leadership effectiveness should be determined by a 10-year report card, not by the propaganda of Western media.
Deng was not clear enough when he said “yes we want a democratic nation, but with Chinese characteristics.” … I think you have to find your own way, and you are already an important factor of the world’s economy whether you like it or not.
…you cannot stop your reform and opening up which relies for now by growing through exporting. If you try, you will create tens of millions of unemployed people. What you are doing wrong to the world’s economy with your trade surplus is only a little less wrong than the Germans. We have a greater surplus in our balance of trade than you. It’s ridiculous.
Well put, Chancellor. Economic reform you talk about here should be largely confined to a set of sound economic principles. It takes generations to change a nation’s behavior, but every country must still make efforts to redress its own imbalances in a world of more or less open economies.
China, Germany and Japan are saver nations. Their exchange reserves accumulations are results of national savings, not the English mercantile policy of old. Total free market economy is a myth, governments are the reality. WTO rules are limited in their power to promote global commerce. Many Western governments are doing their best to prevent China from meaningful investments in their countries. For example, government interventions forbid their companies from buying Huawei communications equipment and Chinese technology companies’ solar panels and wind turbines, etc. These are efforts to undermine China’s advance up the value chain. Without brand values in Chinese goods and services, Western nations should not complain about terms of trade and a low yuan when the global imbalance status quo is one of their policy making.
Macroeconomic marauders could easily wreak havoc on China’s nascent financial industry. If you allow China to own only your paper assets and fiat money, you can wipe out their savings by printing more money or by one stroke of executive order, freeze all their assets in your banking system. That’s hardly fair. Isn’t it? Now Xi Jinping knows his country’s weakness. But at present he has little choice. The West has full control of the global financial system architecture.
Back to your first point. Unlike Deutsch sprechende Menschen, Anglos are good at using language to divide and conquer, propagandize, intimidate and to tyrannize. If Deng Xiaoping talked about democratizing with Chinese characteristics, the meaning is quite clear to me. Deng conceded to global speak in this instance. Democracy in this context means good governance. Chinese government is far from being considered exemplary, let alone ideal. Therefore, Chinese must strive for good governance through experiments. China’s pace of reform must develop in lock step with the empirical results of her economic advance, repeat past domestic successes and avoid known failures of OECD countries. Just as importantly, all new policies must not violate China’s existing culture, which also evolves with time, though at almost a glacial pace compared to social changes.
Implicit but not stated in Deng’s lifelong belief is discourage personality cult in China’s leadership. We must respect the wisdom both in his words and deeds. To date, there are no airports, highways, museums named after him. He did not want China stand still by blindly adopting stale, dysfunctional democracies of the West. The best tribute to him is to take his examples at face value. His words are not meant to be the last ones – like “End of history” of the Democracy Cult – for China’s future generations.
Democracy is not the end point of mankind. There may be developments in many different directions in the coming centuries. Democracy has only existed for about 200 years. It started out with the American Declaration of Independence. The Americans got their ideas from the Europeans, in the main from the French, the Dutch and the British.
But democracy has a number of serious failures. For instance, you have to be elected every four years and you have to be re-elected after the next four years. So you try to tell the people what they would like to hear. The multi-party system is not the crown of progress, but it is the best we have right now. I would fight for maintaining it, but I would not sell it to the Chinese.
The British have sold it to the Indians and to the Pakistanis and the Dutch tried to sell it to the Indonesians. Democracy is not really working in India. I would not tell the Egyptians to introduce democracy; nor would I pitch it to the other Muslim countries like Malaysia, Iran and Pakistan. It is a Western invention. It was not invented by Confucius. It was invented by Montesquieu and by other Frenchmen. It was invented by John Locke and by the Dutch people.
Herr Schmidt, your wisdom exceeds mine. I can add no more to it except to speak from the perch of a humble Hong Konger.
Authoritarianism may be good for the yellow goose but not the white gander. Hong Kongers and Chinese pseudo intellectuals till live in the backwaters of history – aping Western successes even as they are turning into sour failures. Many mindless Chinese imitators of democracy don’t have a clue the philosophical foundations of democracy, especially in the governance of the great, or should I say the once great, America Republic.
If Hong Kong rabble rousers were given the free hand, in no time we would descend into Kiev, Tahrir Square mobs or the yellow shirts in Bangkok, Thailand. One of the reasons that democracy has stopped working in many Western countries is a complex brew of paranoia and resentment of social injustices fueled by the runaway rumor mongering on the Internet.
Anglo leaders like Julia Gillard, George W. Bush, Tony Blair and David Cameron all took cover under their Christian values. Of course, “Thou must kill for national security,” a spin-off of the Sixth Commandment, is a non-starter. Worse, they all take marching orders from the non-elected powers of the entrenched political dynasties and moneyed institutions. Despite political leaders’ sanctimoniousness about their God of Abraham, each and every politician in democracies must kowtow to the Fourth Estate. Ironically, Tony Blair, one of the lapdogs of Rupert Murdoch, finally got his personal revenge by cuckolding his former master.
I know Germans frown on my kind of Schadenfreude and I admit my own petty gratification. This joke of Mr. Blair falls on missionary minded Democracy Cultists, on whose proselytizing you agreed earlier is not kosher.
The critical thing about Western democracy is the fact that you usually have a transition of power without bloodshed. That is an enormous advantage…democracy as we know it was only invented recently in the West, historical speaking. It did not really work in ancient Rome. It functioned for less than 200 years in ancient Athens. And then it had not functioned in any other country in the world until the Americans declared independence from the British monarchy.
Even in the time of Pericles in ancient Athens you had slaves. You had to be a citizen of Athens, and for every citizen of Athens there were at least three people who did not have the right to vote and at least one third were slaves.
Even in America, slavery was officially accepted until the middle of the 19th century. The Civil War in the American democracy was about slavery. Don’t forget that. And by the middle of this century you will see that the Mexicans and their children and the Afro-Americans and their children will together be one half of the American electorate. And whoever is president will have to play to the ears of these electors. America will change from a world power into something different. China will also change. And whether you become a democracy or not remains to be seen. My feeling is that you will not become a democracy.
What I disagree with you here is minor. You’re bringing in different kinds of democracies here. Strictly speaking, generic democracy shares only one thing: open balloting to select a leader. However, there are limitless practical ways to select candidates. Ironically, for all practical intent, the choice of candidates to stand in elections for every country must be of necessity “undemocratic” in every sense of the word. Does it mean that by making this nomination process into the singularly important issue, we Hong Kongers are the stupidest in the world? I am afraid so. We are just not ready for your democracy. Our losers in elections, the activist dissidents, are not likely to accept gracefully the outcome of a losing election. How do I know? Because our politicos have stated uniform suffrage is the only be-all-end-all issue. For them there are no others issues – not jobs, not healthcare, not education and not provident funds – and no fallback positions on election loss. Win or else could mean one thing: riots and violence. In mature democracies, life goes on after an election.
In the generic use of the word democracy, only a small number of democratic countries are free of bloodsheds in elections. Just look at India, Philippines, Thailand, Ukraine and numerous others. An even better counter example is the former Soviet Union. It was not democratic. There was no coupe or killings when the country transitioned from communist Gorbachev to drunkard democratic Yeltsin. Chinese has not seen any bloodshed in power transfers in the last 4 decades.
Also you must admit vast majority foreign wars of occupation that kill up to millions were all started by Western democracies after WW 2.
The reason early American Republic worked well is because it was not very democratic. Only landed gentry were given the ballots and the leadership was a bunch of crème de la crème elitists and geniuses.
You (China) are certainly in a post-communist system but you have not entered the new era. I also doubt that you will remain a one party system either.
What you are talking here is the superficial political structure. Looking under the hood, there are already two opposing de facto parties within the CCP. For me, this is Nature’s way to organize humans. In order to survive, every individual, group or nation constantly needs a certain amount of tension to adjust and fine tune its goals as environment changes. Individual Chinese politicians are no different. They find it necessary to belong to a faction, first to survive personally and next, to have their small voices heard as part of their faction’s platforms.
It is impossible to use a huge diversity of individual inputs on multiple issues as is as inputs to a system. Therefore, inputs must be categorized and filtered into a consensus at different levels of an organization’s hierarchy. This is how political parties came into being in the first place. These inputs formation processes in human organizations occupy space and time at different hierarchical stages, whose number of political parties, horizontal and vertical issues integrations depend highly on the size of an organization or a nation. The final stage of adversarial showdown, the statement of political platforms, is expressed by chiefs of parties. There is no right or wrong number for political parties. In the US and China, there are two.
What matters is whether the process works or not. In China, it works quite well at present. We can’t predict the future.
They (media) are too powerful. I believe in the representative type of democracy. The media are undermining that type of democracy. Particularly since the computerization of the world, the impact of media has grown enormously. The printed books and the printed media have become less important. Why should somebody read Laozi or Confucius if he can Google?
You’re perfectly correct insofar as politics is concerned. But in terms of gathering information and acquiring knowledge, we are living in the best of times.