China Daily today has a headline that’s too hilarious in its understatement to keep from sharing with you: “Experts: US, China democracy different”. Wow, who would have thought? Thank God we consulted “experts”.
Anyway, the New York Times also ran an opinion piece today by Roger Cohen about the potential for democracy emerging in China and Vietnam through peaceful evolution. Cohen writes,
The looming danger [to the CCP] is called “peaceful evolution.” […] That may sound like the weatherman warning of the menace of clear, sunlit skies. But the architects of Market-Leninism, who have delivered fast-growth capitalism to one-party Asian states, are in earnest. The nightmares they have are not about revolutionary upheaval, but the drip, drip, drip of liberal democracy.
The rapid rise of China and Vietnam, accounting between them for some 20 percent of humanity, has ushered hundreds of millions of people from poverty since totalitarian Communism fell. The West is in no position to say it knows better.
Something there is about a single doctrine that rubs humanity the wrong way. For a brief moment, after the Berlin Wall fell, free-market, multiparty liberal systems seemed set to sweep everything in their triumphant path. But from Moscow to Beijing to Hanoi, reaction came. Markets and nationalism trumped freedom and the vote; the noble spirit of Tiananmen and Berlin faded.
America, born as a liberating idea, must be true to that and promote its values. But, sobered and broke, it must be patient. As the emergent middle classes of Vietnam and China become more demanding of what they consume, they will also be more demanding consumers of government.
They will want more transparency, predictable laws, better health care, less corruption, broader education, freer speech and fewer red lines.
One-party states will be hard pressed to provide that. Another quarter-century down the road, I’d bet on more democracy and liberty in Beijing and Hanoi, achieved through peaceful evolution, no less.
It’s an interesting point, but my first response to “one-party states will be hard pressed to provide [more transparency, predictable laws, better health care, less corruption, broader education, freer speech and fewer red lines]” is: why is that? Zhao Ziyang’s memoir is just the latest reminder that while the CCP may be monolithic it is not ideologically homologous. If, within the CCP, there are liberal and conservative elements competing with each other on matters of ideology and policy, then at some point, couldn’t the difference between “multi-party” and “one party” really be a semantic one?
Now, before everyone explodes and starts typing angry comments, please read this paragraph several times: I am not arguing that the CCP, as it currently exists, offers the same spectrum of opinion and policy that would be offered by a multi-party system. I’m only wondering why “more transparency, predictable laws, better health care, less corruption, broader education, freer speech and fewer red lines” couldn’t, theoretically, be accomplished by a single political party.
Frankly, I suspect the kind of “peaceful evolution” Cohen is talking about is, in China, about as likely to evolve within the Party itself as it is outside it. As Cohen notes, there’s a widespread perception in China that undermining Party authority would lead to instability. Given that there’s also widespread dissatisfaction with a number of issues, most especially corruption, the logical solution seems to be to reform the extant system.
Whether or not that will happen, of course, is another question entirely, as is whether or not it’s what’s really best for China. But what do you think? Is a single-party system like China’s theoretically capable of providing “more transparency, predictable laws, better health care, less corruption, broader education, freer speech and fewer red lines”? Is it capable of satisfying the demands of a modern, educated middle class?