What makes it FT's business, or Rumsfeld's, to decide how soon China should be democratized?

Saturday, July 02 2005 @ 10:00 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

On June 9 the Daily Yomiuri carried an analytical report titled "Sooner or later, China will embrace democracy" it borrowed from Financial Times. I read through the article written by Victor Mallet to see if there was any substance behind this truistic headline, by any chance. I found none.

According to Mallet, Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. defense secretary, had a talk with Cui Tiankai, China's senior foreign ministry official, on June 4 when they attended the Asian security conference of the International Institute for Strategic Studies held in Singapore.

After accusing China of under-reporting its military budget, Rumsfeld "strayed beyond the normal boundaries of defense policy" and warned Cui that China should accelerate its process toward "a more open and representative government."

Mallet wrote: "On the taboo subject of Chinese political reform, Cui said nothing."

In the absence of a specific response offhand from the Chinese official, the FT writer turned to Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and a former Singapore's U.N. ambassador, for his oracle about the "most important unresolved political issue of the 21st century."

Mahbubani said: "The Chinese are acutely aware that they have to have political reform," adding that "They also believe it will take time to change. They have seen what happened with (former Soviet president Mikhail) Gorbachev, and they don't want that." And the FT writer bought the dean's "realistic" way of viewing things.

Mallet even quoted some "authoritarians" as pointing out the fact that the Chinese today are twice as rich on a per capita basis as the Indians. Here Mallet, was insinuating that he agreed "a rapid imposition of Western-style democracy (such as in India) is a recipe for chaos."

In short Rumsfeld says, "Much faster," while Mahbubani and Mallet say, "Let them take their time." But this really leaves me wondering what on earth makes it Rumsfeld's business, or Mahbubani's, or Mallet's, to decide how long it should take to make the unavoidable eventuality of democratization of China happen.

As I wrote in my book review on the Gordon G. Chang's "The Coming Collapse of China," however, it's all up to the 1.3 billion people, including those hundreds of millions who stay below the poverty line, of course, to decide how soon.

And the fact is that in more than dozens of rural cities in China, people are already saying enough is enough. It's only that the China's authorities have imposed an effective news blackout all over these cities and the Western reporters dare not reveal the fact, defying the censorship.

I do agree, though, that we will certainly see a democratization of China "sooner or later" if it's a China's version of "democracy," just like the "Marxism" Mao Zedong implemented 56 years ago was an exotic and mutant version of it.

My hunch here is that "the most important political issue of the 21st century" will be resolved somewhere in the early 2010s as China will put in place a fully-electronicized version of a popular election system. It has to be an online voting system in part because of the unprecedented number of the eligible voters.

But more importantly, that is because of the fact that the Chinese authorities have by now proved to be the world's most skillful people in manipulating flows of data and information over the Net.

I wouldn't be surprised if a secret project is going on in the China's State Encryption Management Commission or the like to equip the current regime with a state-of-the-art vote manipulation system in the next 5-10 years.

My wild speculation aside, China will certainly outdo the old regime in Cambodia (2003) or the Viktor Yanukovych's camp of Ukraine (2004). Even if the U.S. sent its former presidents and the U.N. sent its poll monitoring team as guardians of a fair election, about 3 millions of them (see Note below), they would be at a loss over how to track the possible vote rigging with their limited skills and knowledge in the IT-based forensic technology.

(Note) To monitor the 2003 election in Cambodia, about 31,000 people gathered at the 12,534 registered polling stations. Since the China's population is 100 times as large as the Cambodia's, the free world will have to send 3 million computer-literate observers to China in 201X.

Also I foresee they will possibly have renamed the Chinese Communist Party by that time because they do not particularly cling to its name. What they want to defend at any cost is something else: their vested interests in the current system.

So the most important issue of the century will have been resolved perhaps even before they unpeg the yuan from the U.S. dollar.

And thanks to the likes of FT, we are going to save all the issues about Japan for the 22nd century.

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