By Paolo von Schirach
November 25, 2012
WASHINGTON – Bloomberg Businessweek provides a good summary of the economic challenges that the new Chinese leaders have to confront, (The Man with a Plan to Revive Chinese Growth, Nov. 26 – Dec. 2, 2012). Indeed, China has to deal with slower growth, the flow of rural people into cities, the need to diversify into services sectors and a lot more. The article profiles China’s new Prime Minister, Li Kequiang, trying to determine whether or not he may have a successful strategy that will enable China to resume its high rate of growth.
No democracy in China
All very interesting and informative. Except for one detail. This article, as so many others in Western media, treats China’s new leaders as the incoming new managers of a large multinational corporations concerned with growth, market share, competitiveness, when to roll out new products, and so on.
In other words, this self-appointed, autocratic leadership selected in total secrecy by a small group of party bosses is discussed as if they were seasoned CEOs and COOs of IBM or General Electric: well meaning technocrats doing their best to keep the corporation profitable, this way providing good value to their shareholders.
Disservice to readers
This way of covering China is unreal and a true disservice to the readers. China is not a corporation. It s a country of 1.3 billion people who have zero representation and no say in who governs them. Somehow this central fact is omitted from stories about China that focus mostly on the economic challenges confronting its autocratic, unelected leaders .
Indeed, whatever the economic challenges ahead, (and there are many), China’s most profound shortcoming is political. Its leadership lacks the elementary legitimacy derived from truly contested free elections.
Even if we give the current lot, headed by incoming Party Secretary and President Xi Jinping, the benefit of the doubt, even if we assume that they really mean well in trying to promote balanced growth and more broad based prosperity, their policies will not enjoy the strength that comes from a freely expressed popular mandate.
One day a democratic China?
We should all wish China well. It would be wonderful if China found its own way to transition away from one party rule into some form of basic democracy. A truly democratic China would be more stable and most likely a more responsible member of the international community.
Political legitimacy is not just detail
But let us start from reality. China is not there yet, nor is there any indication that its current leaders have any intention to move the country towards democracy. Treating China’s leaders as if somehow that had the same political legitimacy of their Western counterparts, (or, worse yet, treating them as legitimate because, after all, a democratic mandate does not matter that much), provides a false picture. This coverage blurs reality and it encourages readers to believe that in the end we are only concerned about economic performance –the rest is only detail.
America is prosperous because it is free
Democracy just detail? Would anybody accept the notion that democratic institutions are just a mere appendix of America Inc.? We have always been told the opposite. We have been told that it is because of democratic institutions created to protect individual rights that a free American society could unleash the talent of its people. In other words, we believe that we became prosperous because we are free. Does this fundamental principle apply only to the USA?