Sunday, March 06, 2005

Democracy: The Third Wave

The second wave was when the Soviet Union collapsed. One hopes the third wave will be the final. And China is the biggest prize in the wings, but also the most complicated.

I just looked up the Wikipedia List of Countries by System of Government. The countries to be targeted are as follows. The news links will take you to the Google News page for that country.

Absolute Monarchies: Bhutan (news), Bahrain (news), Brunei Darussalam (news), Kuwait (news), Oman (news), Nepal (news), Qatar (news), Saudi Arabia (news), Swaziland (news), Tonga (news), United Arab Emirates (news), Vatican City (news).

Authoritarian Governments: Algeria (news), Burkina Faso (news), Cameroon (news), Chad (news), Republic of Congo (news), Djibouti (news), Egypt (news), Equatorial Guinea (news), Eritrea (news), Ethiopia (news), Gabon (news), The Gambia (news), Guinea (news), Libya (news), Mauritania (news), Rwanda (news), Togo (news), Tunisia (news), Uganda (news), Zimbabwe (news). Azerbaijan (news), Iran (news), Kazakhstan (news), Kyrgyzstan (news), Maldives (news), Pakistan (news), Syria (news), Tajikistan (news), Turkmenistan (news), Uzbekistan (news), Yemen (news). Belarus (news).

Military Governments: Central African Republic (news), Myanmar (news), Sudan (news).

Communist States: Cuba (news), People's Republic of China (news), Democratic People's Republic of Korea (news), Laos (news), Vietnam (news).

Transitional Governments: Afghanistan (news), Burundi (news), Democratic Republic of the Congo (news), Haiti (news), Iraq (news), Liberia (news), Somalia (news), Côte d'Ivoire (news).

In China's case, one has to look in terms of hundreds of years. When Americans look back at their history, they are looking at 500 years. The Chinese? They are looking at 5000 years. The history of communism in China has to be seen as a great nation's backlash against then western imperialism. The continued defensiveness on the part of the Chinese has to be seen not only as a result of that history, but also as a reaction to the continued racism in the west. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) in several ways is the NAACP of the Chinese people, only much more effective. Before you expect a person to move beyond a pain, you have to at least acknowledge the pain. The same applies to countries.

And the CCP has to be given credit for its amazing stewardship of the Chinese economy. It is an organization of patriots who are pragmatic to a fault and who genuinely want the best for their country. The Chinese economic miracle has bountiful lessons for the Global South in general.

But then India has been able to exhibit some pretty remarkable strides with software and the service sector like China has with the industrial sector, and so the trick is not in communism, but in the market mechanism. When you unleash it, magic happens.

I take it for granted that China will ultimately end up being a multi-party democracy. But it will be a tectonic shift that will cause change also within existing democracies. America as a democracy itself has numerous deficiencies. Civilizations stand to learn from each other.

The question is not if but when and how soon. More importantly, how can the pace towards democracy be expedited in China?

I agree with the proponents of engagement. China's coming under the WTO umbrella was a major positive step.

The Chinese leadership can lay claims to patriotism, and to not being corrupt in money terms. But they are corrupt in power terms. What they have is a monopoly of power that needs to be broken.

I can imagine China someday becoming a global superpower, perhaps surpassing every other. But it can do so only if it embraces democracy and becomes party to the idea of a Reorganized UN. On the other hand, the whole superpower talk itself might go out of fashion in a few decades. The talk might instead be of social infrastructure. The focus might be on the individual, the individual everywhere. As someone once said, we need a great political system, so we don't need a genius to run it, and so I can focus on things I want to do as an invidividual, without having to worry the system might break down, even if I don't bother to go vote.

Superpower talk is ego talk, not particularly helpful. But if it be, the only way to beat America, which is the number one country in the world today, is to beat its democracy, for some other country to become even more democratic. What is more likely to happen instead is, America itself will keep perfecting its democracy, and it is well on its way to becoming a majority non-white country. Down the line it might be possible to see a Chinese American in the White House, but it is a really long way before a white person becomes President of China, and therein lies America's open secret of success. America is an idea, it is not a white country, although its lingering social ills might lead some or many to believe so.

China might do a really good job of catching up, and in the process it might even surpass the US GDP, but if it really wants to outdo America, it will have to become a country that actually invents new industries, and the only way to do that is by unleashing the individual, which is democracy. State power does not invent, it stifles.

I am a Buddhist. That makes me directly related to the plight of the Tibetans. I do not see Tibet as a separate country. But I do see a China that is a multi-party democracy, that respects human rights, religious freedom, and within that framework the Tibetans thrive, and all Tibetans get to call Tibet home again. That is an uncompromising goal to me.

And so I was deeply offended when the junta in Kathmandu shut down the Dalai Lama's office in Kathmandu.

What I am getting at is, I can see the geopolitical reasons behind the stances of the major powers regards countries like Pakistan and China. But Nepal affords a major opportunity to the Indo-US-EU alliance. In the case of Nepal, the three powers can actually afford to become idealistic, and they should seize the opportunity.

And a subsequently democratic Nepal should become to Tibetans what India is today. Safe havens like Dharmashala should be established.

You have to keep needling the Chinese, you have to keep supporting the Chinese democrats, mostly abroad.

Nepal is an opportunity India, US and Europe can not afford to miss.

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