The recent post by pugster about rioters in Hong Kong brought to my mind some thoughts I had as the Umbrella Revolution was flaming out a couple of years ago.
One of the arguments many people in the West used to denigrate the HK and Mainland government in support of the Umbrella movement was that the rioters had a right to block streets and shut down districts to get their message out. When some Hong Kongers – siding with HK and Mainland government – pushed back that while freedom of speech grants them the right to protest but not a right to shut down entire districts, they were ridiculed and shamed by the Western press.
Of course, as we know, when the occupy movement flamed across the Western capitals of the world, those governments acted very differently. The police (even paramilitary forces) soon cracked down and order was soon restored. But in China, so-called rule of law quickly gets tossed aside in the name of mob rule (I mean “democracy”). All this reinforced in my mind how “political” “free” speech is. It is “free” when the politics is palatable. But when it’s not, the “costs” – be it national security, social peace, whatever – gets framed as the main (only) issues.
This reminds me of another story last year when the Pope visited the U.S. If people remember, the pope got a “rock star” reception from the media – with the press trumpeting how popular, socially and morally in tune the pope is, especially compared to China’s President Xi (also visiting the U.S. around the same time) who allegedly got a stiff and cool reception. Continue reading Free Speech Definitely Doesn’t Mean Cost Notwithstanding Speech
The writing has been on the wall for KMT’s chances in the election this time around for some time. As I had discussed earlier, the battle between DPP and KMT in the 2016 election is not about independence vs. status quo as it had been 8 years back when Taiwan elected Ma Ying-jeou, or 16 years ago when Taiwan elected Chen Shui-Bian. That battle had been won long ago, with this time everyone agreeing that the status quo is the way to go. The battle this time around is about economics, about what to do with Taiwan’s stagnant wages and rising home prices.
Of course, there are plenty of symbolism that DPP – and hence Tsai – still stands for independence. DPP’s charter, for example, still officially endorses independence. Tsai has also been purposely demure and vague about her stance toward the Mainland, including her public avoidance of acknowledging the 1992 Consensus on the one-China policy.
But I think it’s possible all that is just symbolism. Given that it’s election season, and that the 1992 Consensus include details that allowed both sides to interpret things slightly differently under the broad rubric of a one China policy, I think it’s perhaps understandable Tsai want to do everything to avoid the specter of getting pinned into one specific or another interpretation.
The real reason KMT lost is because it has not properly addressed the following political trends. Continue reading DPP Wins in Taiwan
So it looks official now, Hong Kong’s Legislature has officially rejected the Election Reform promulgated by PRC’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. (For more on this topic, see this previous post late last year) The central government has responded that the election rules stands and now it is the hope of many that Hong Kong will continue to find a way to execute full democracy under the Basic Law and NPC rules.
Continue reading Hong Kong Legislature Rejects Election Reform
As the Occupy protests continue in Hong Kong, articles, editorials and op-eds in the Western press continue to characterize the conflict as one between those in Hong Kong demanding “real democracy” and Beijing reneging on its promise of “universal suffrage” under “one country two systems.” Western media and leaders – including the New York Times Editorial Board and President Obama, for example – have all but argued that “universal suffrage” in Hong Kong means that Beijing should have no say in determining which candidates are eligible to run for elections … that the system China has proposed is but a “charade” of democracy.
But does this narrative hold any water?
A quick glance at history and Article 45 of the Hong Kong’s Basic Law is revealing. Continue reading Are the Occupy Protesters really about “Democracy”?
By the now, the results are in. Scotland has just rejected secession from U.K. in a historic referendum. There have been impassioned” pleas on both sides, but through it all, Scotland will remain a part of the U.K. If mainstream media is to be trusted, a big sigh of relief is heard around the world.
Personally I have no feeling one way or another although I will admit, the breakup of the U.K. – long the terror for much of the world – does not really bring a distaste to my mouth. Whichever side you take, what I can’t stand is the suffocating self congratulatory praises that seem to now infuse editorials (see e.g. this piece by Roger Cohen in the NYT) and reader comments (see e.g. comments to this NYT article) about “democracy” and “rule of law.”
Oh … just look how the debates in Scotland (and U.K.) have been so “civil” even if “impassioned.” The U.K. and the West is truly different from others – especially rising powers such as China – because in the free democratic West, important, divisive issues can be settled peacefully, civilly, democratically, and in accordance “the rule of law.”
But is this really about the triumph of “democracy” and “rule of law”? A little dose of reality might bring some sobriety. Continue reading The Scotland Referendum and What it might teach us about Democracy
This is a brief note on elections – that bedrock of modern democracy.
A key and indispensable pillar of modern democracy – heck modernity – is the notion of elections. Elections, many believe, are a fundamental way for people to express their voice, and some believe even for people to engage in self-determination as envisaged in the Charter of the United Nations. Without elections, there can be no political accountability, no political legitimacy. Oh yes, there might be, once in a while, a government such as the one in China today that gains popular approval without elections, but such a political structure cannot be sustained. Over time, bad leadership inevitably arises. Non-democratic political orders provides no means for the people to get rid of a “bad emperor.” Over the long haul, the only way to rid governments that don’t serve the people is elections.
This may sound all fair and good except in real life, elections don’t work that way. In real life – elections rarely project a “people’s voice,” too often detracts from the routine act of governing. And the world has never witnessed – nor do I expect to witness – elections to overturn a truly unjust order.
Let’s pierce the facade using a real example to see how things add up. Continue reading A Brief Note on Elections – that Bedrock of Modern Democracy…
I am now anxious to watch the debate between Eric X Li and Minxin Pei at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, where the topic was “China and Democracy.” Once the video is available, I’ll post. The debate was moderated by The Atlantics’ James Fallows, who actually admits himself here biased. So, perhaps the debate was 1 vs 1 where Pei having gotten a partial referee on his side. Interestingly, J.J. Gould, a deputy editor from the same paper, was in the audience and recounts some key arguments put forth by the three. Not having had access to the actual debate yet, I decided to weight in on Gould’s recount. For Americans, and Westerners in general, there is a great deal of anxiety when it comes to China modernizing. China’s rise challenges their notion that modernity must be predicated on “Democracy.” Actually, if you think about it, why must China’s success challenge that notion? The simple psychology there is, as Henry Kissinger recently observed in his book, “On China:” America (and the West which she leads) pursues her “values with missionary zeal.” They see China as not a “Democracy.” Hence the title of the debate is what it is, isn’t it? I wager there are many Westerners who are sincere in wishing for what the best is for Chinese society. However, much of the anxiety really stems from zeal and intolerance for any other way. In that light, I am countering Pei and Fallows’ assertions.
Continue reading China modernizes, “Democracy” faith wavers