The cost of not being a "democracy"

When China announced its plan to pursue democracy (in the form of universal suffrage, update see asiatimes), people were skeptical. They have the reason to doubt, especially after 1989. However, let's not forget that China had opened its arms to democracy until the summer of 1989. Let's also remember that Marxism and Socialism, which had deeply influenced the Chinese leaders and two generations, are egalitarian at heart. Most importantly, there is a significant cost for not being a democracy, and such cost is getting in the way as China grows.

The world has never been a fair world. It will never be, though it improves as time progresses. The West had discriminated China in the past and also today, the top one reason being that China is not a 'democracy'. For example,
  1. When there is a dispute between Japan and China on the East China Sea EEZ, the West blames China for aggression, regardless of the fact that China has legitimate claim based on UN LOS, or that Japan's claim in based on a disputable claim on another piece of rock
  2. It is okay for Israel to hunt down Nazi and blast neo-Nazi members but not okay for China to complain about Yasukuni war criminals and neo-fascists. They faulted China for "fanning hatred" toward a democracy when China had no choice but letting the steam off its enraged citizens
  3. When India moved into disputed areas and border conflicts escalated into a war in 1961-62, the West blamed only China for "invading" a democracy (despite many scholarly studies in the West including the US Navy Research reporting otherwise, even NYT and WSJ still said "China invaded India" when reporting about the Kennedy nuke conversation recently)
  4. The US (and the "West") blocked China for entering the WTO when it was founded, and later imposed the harshest condition (e.g. quota transition clause, and opening insurance sector) before belatedly admitting China (source: economist and FT commentary)
  5. The bidding for Olympic 2000 was awarded to Sydney when the vote divided between the "West" and the Rest.

Samuel Hungtinton argued that the fundamental reason for China bashing and "containing" is due to the clash of civilization camps, which is both cultural and racial at a deeper level. But evidently the fact that China is not a "democracy" has also been used as a reason, or excuse. We know cultural or racial difference is not the only factor when looking at West's biase on Japan over China. We also know that "democracy" alone cannot explain the discrimination as shown by how US supported tyrants in Saudi Arabia and Iraq before 1991. However, it is safe to say that "democracy" played a crucial role in the biase above.

China cannot change its cultural or racial composition. But democracy is something that it can change to. China's road to "Peaceful development" is full of challenges, it should maximize its chance to clear any potential obstacle with all its efforts. Apparently the new leaders are beginning to realize this. To convince the West about China's genuine intention in pursuing "Peaceful development", setting a roadmap to democracy now becomes a neccessary step. The cost for not doing so is getting high, and will become even higher as China moves closer to a "medium developed nation".

Joining the West as a "democracy" is part of playing by the rule of the rest of the world, especially since China has recognized and accepted US as the hegemony for the next couple decades. China needs to recognize the fact that what is preached by the West is not necessarily bad for the East, when it seeks a more effective political system to check corruption and improve accountability. More importantly, the argument that democracy is incompatible with economic development is getting weaker now, as Eastern European (esp. Czech, Slovenia, Baltic states and even Poland) economies are improving now. So is the threat of getting into a 'turmoil'.

Even though joining the democracy club is not going to solve all the problems, especially trade related ones, the benefit will far outwieght the potential "risk" of losing stability. And the risk is small now, especially if it is implemented via baby-steps. More important, it is a better time to take such risk when the government and the economy is strong, like today.

Yes, there will still be unfairness and discrimination in this world. But the best strategy to deal with this is to acknowledge and accomodate it and, most important, avoid the "victim mentality". This is what "Tao Guan Yang Hui" really means. Yes, China has been a victim of imperialism in the past 200 years, but reminding others about this will only support the skeptics. When the West (US) supported China's invasion of Vietnam in 1979 (the reason was to convince US that China had indeed splitted from the Soviet camp, according to Liu Yazhou), it was not totally fair to Vietnam either. China should bravely face its history and apologize to Vietnam. This, together with some substantial plan (baby-steps are okay) toward democracy, and a proper acknowledgement of what happened in 1989 (it is unlikely to trigger instability or unrest now, and proper acknowledgement of Hu Yaobang is the first baby-step), the advocates of containing China will be left with few plausible ammunition. This, is a key ingredient for "Peaceful development". Hu needs to realized that this is part of a package deal, and that there is nothing for China to be afraid, as long as he remembers Deng XP's Gradualism Principle.