ROUNDTABLE ON PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRACY IN POST-TIANANMEN CHINA

 

Ms. Youdon Aukatsang, Dr. Swaran Singh, Mr. KC Pant, Mr. T.C.A. Rangachari

 

Introductory Remarks by Madhuri Santanam Sondhi, Director of the ML Sondhi Institute for Asia-Pacific Affairs

 

Friends, before handing over the proceedings to the Hon’ble Mr. KC Pant I would like to thank him heartily for kindly agreeing to chair our discussions today. I also extend my warm thanks to Ambassador Rangachari and also to Dr. Swaran Singh from the School of International Studies, JNU and Ms. Youdon Aukatsang, member of  the Tibetan parliament-in-exile. Special thanks to the Tibetan People’s Parliamentary Research Centre for their assistance in organising this meet. Also a very hearty welcome to all friends who have gathered here on this hot June morning to join in this roundtable.

 

 

I think most people here are aware that the M.L. Sondhi Institute for Asia- Pacific Affairs is an independent think-tank, a continuation of the Institute for Asia Pacific Security established by Professor M.L. Sondhi in 2003. Sadly, he passed away shortly after. We aim to continue his work by studying the historic emergence of the Asia Pacific Region in international politics in the twenty first century, especially with regard to understanding certain key political, security, economic and cultural issues confronting the region. We are also available on the net at www.mlsondhi.org.

 

We have paid special attention to China, which has been one of the biggest challenges to Indian diplomacy since both countries became uneasy  neighbours after the PLA entry into Tibet and adopted different political systems in their post-colonial bids to modernise. Lately, especially in the last few decades, we in India are constantly looking at and comparing ourselves with China’s economic growth and her military power. Much discussion has taken place on the strategic implications of this growth. But we thought today being the 19th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that it might be interesting to also review the changes, such as they are, that are taking place in China’s political system and where they are likely to lead, if anywhere. This topic captured the headlines during the last couple of months when unrest in Tibet pointed to something seriously wrong with China’s polity, and its problematic long term effects.

 

Today India’s domestic politics can heavily impact its foreign policy. China by contrast appears a tightly controlled apex-decisional regime.  Economic liberalisation has brought about an increase in personal freedoms but not necessarily in political rights, so there is yet not much that can be termed democracy, as we understand it. But the compulsions of its economic growth and education are bound to impact China’s government. China’s society is not open or transparent as generally understood, but neither is it as closed as it used to be. Visitors get access to some of her people and institutions, but as scholars report, more subtle and indirect controls remain. The press was given a fairly free run prior to the Olympics except in Tibet, and is currently also allowed to report on the Sichuan earthquake.

 

Thus China is in a transitional phase, heading to where is a matter of controversy - some would say authoritarianism, others hope for democracy. We do not know whether these processes can be sustained. There is a strong school of thought that sees democratic light at the end of the tunnel, but what form this democracy will take, how it will affect its minorities, whether or not it will conform to the maxim that democracies do not wage war against other democracies - all this lies in the womb of time. But the topic is of vital interest to us in terms of defining our national territory, and our economic, environmental and military security. We look forward to the approaches and interpretations which will surface in this morning’s discussion. It is now my great pleasure to hand over the meeting to the Honourable Mr. K.C. Pant.

 

Chairman, Shri K.C. Pant

 

Mrs. Sondhi has chosen a subject of great interest not only to China watchers but also to anyone who takes an interest in international affairs. She says it is a question of vital interest to the whole world. The best people to comment on it as one can see from our own comments are people who follow events in China closely. Fortunately with us here we have scholars and specialists who can give their insights and who can perhaps shed light on questions which have been raised by Madhurji. I too would not like to reach a conclusion and then adduce arguments in support of that conclusion, but rather approach the subject in an objective manner, and perhaps pose some questions for the specialists to answer.

 

As Madhurji said, the biggest overarching question is the ultimate impact of the economic changes that have taken place in China on its political system. The political reforms that have been taken up in the last few decades have produced some tycoons and encouraged free enterprise, they have allowed foreign capital FDI and foreign MNCs to come into China. So the question obviously arises as to whether authoritarianism of the kind that China has seen which maybe relaxing a little bit but is nevertheless still there – whether that can coexist with the kind of economic reforms and the forces that the economic reforms release. Way back in the 1990s I went to Beijing for a talk and asked one of the Chinese leaders whom I met this precise question: how would you deal with the fallout of the economic reforms you have introduced? Normally when you allow free enterprise, pressures for political rights also grow with it. That has been the experience elsewhere. So, how will you reconcile the desire of political aspirations with your rigid one-party state?  He did not answer straight away and thought over the question and then said that “we will find a Chinese way”. I thought over the answer later: could it be just be a normal evasive answer from a politician or could it be an expression of self-confidence? He believes that an ancient civilization like China’s which has survived for many centuries has the capacity to adjust to change and thus it survives. Therefore he will find a Chinese way. But then the question arises does the adjustment also envisage moving toward a democratic system as we understand it? Of course there is a global trend toward democracy and the Chinese are well aware of that. So will they move in step with it? This is the big question. But when we speak of democracies, there are democracies and democracies. We normally think of the western style of democracy and Indian democracy or American democracy. But then there are other forms of democracy including controlled democracy like in Singapore. So I am wondering if the Chinese do move toward democracy, whether they would find that type more attractive than the kind of democracy we find acceptable in India.

The other point Madhurji hinted at was the impact of international opinion on the course of events in China, particularly in the area of movement towards better transparency and toward a certain easing of the tight controls that have been exercised earlier. Some even argue that China would accept democracy as Russia did because of the certain changes after the end of the Cold War. But then the question is, are the two situations comparable? One important difference is that whereas China is prospering with a booming economy and a very high rate of growth – a sustained high rate of growth year after year around 10% or over 10% of GDP.  The Soviet Union in the 1990s had an economy that was weakening from within. I do not want to go into detail but it was ready for a radical change. So, the necessity to introduce economic reforms grew out of an internal weakness. One big difference is that in China the recent introduction of economic reforms has been far better organised, slower, and it has taken place in a manner where the system has been able to adjust itself to the changes. In the Soviet Union it came suddenly through the simultaneous introduction of glasnost and perestroika, and of course there were powerful geo-political interests and the pressure of national public opinion. All these factors certainly accelerated the pace of change in the Soviet Union and finally led to the formation of Russia. The gradual move towards democracy ultimately led to a formal democracy, which again may be different from what we have here. So this formal democracy is operating in Russia. Therefore, there is a big difference between the vulnerability of these two countries to pressure from international opinion.  And because of China’s economic power there seems to be a reluctance to press China either to adopt democratic institutions or in fact even to have a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. There is of course some tokenism but whereas in the case of Myanmar there is an international  readiness to impose sanctions at the drop of a hat, in the case of China there is a very cautious and careful approach to any controversial matter. But that is not to say that China is not becoming more responsive to international criticism or indifferent to its international image. We have seen that, as the Beijing Olympics come closer China has displayed greater sensitivity to international opinion. As Madhurji mentioned, the manner in which the recent earthquake disaster was covered by the media was far more transparent then coverage of the previous earthquake, despite the far more serious impact and death toll than earlier. So the change is there. But the fact of the matter is that in the ultimate analysis it is not the pressure of international opinion which will decide how far and how fast China will move towards democracy. It will be with the internal pressures within China that will decide this matter. Therefore we should really focus on the changes that are taking place in China.

Now, one important institution on which individual rights and human rights depend is the judiciary. So, obviously one area of discussion is the independence of the judiciary. The other is the freedom of the press: to what extent has there been loosening of controls over the media. Madhuriji spoke of more sophisticated methods of control of information, as for instance on the Internet and on websites. What kind of sophisticated methods have been introduced in China to control access to websites and to those parts of the Internet of which the Chinese government does not approve? Then the question of freedom of speech is always present. We have seen how intolerant the Chinese system has been toward any kind of the dissent in the past. Is there any relaxation now? Is there some tolerance for criticism, leave aside the question of whether there are any signs of a multi-party system developing - in other words, political parties with other manifestoes and other points of view? Here the question that I have raised from the beginning is that when you have rapid economic growth and you have growing middle- classes and you have some rich people, then the experience is that the rich people gravitate towards political power to protect their own interests above all and either support political parties or in some cases even form political parties. So are any such trends visible in China?  I know that in the last few years some successful entrepreneurs have been inducted into the national bodies of the communist party. These are decision-making bodies. Now, what is the impact of that? Because, after all when you give greater importance to some business people, there are other rivals or competitors who also react. I don’t know enough and so I just raise this question. Perhaps I am projecting the Indian scene onto the Chinese polity. But anyway, this is the experience we have. Then arises the question of the introduction of some kind of democracy and some democratic institutions at the grass roots level. Now, are these experiments with electoral democracy? Are these limited controlled experiments meant to be contained at the local level or are they the beginnings of processes which will then move upwards?

There is another factor which one has to ponder over, and that is that  regional disparities have grown in China. The distance between rich and poor is also visible as in India. Shortage of basic necessities like clothes and food always lead to dissatisfaction. In a democracy there are safety valves, but how will China deal with dissatisfaction caused by shortages and disparities? There are official reports of public protests against public officials. There are reports of public disturbances. I read somewhere the number is growing sharply over the years. But from all accounts the Chinese government handles these with tact and accepts these as reality. So the question is, would it be possible in the long run to manage the dissent politically without democratic institutions, processes, and platforms? This is a big question.

Finally, we have to consider whether the Chinese have any experience of democracy in the past to which they can refer. Because, a society which has a tradition of democracy or has experienced democracy and freedom always has a constituency supporting democracy. So I am wondering whether China does have any such constituency and if so, how strong it is?

I hope you don’t mind my having posed these questions to you. They are honest questions because I do not know the answers and I do not follow Chinese events as closely as you do. Therefore I expect the discussions to throw light on all these questions, which will take us nearer to the answer. Nobody perhaps can answer the questions which Madhuriji has put forward unless you have engravings on a crystal ball. But certainly it should be possible to have an intelligent discussion. Thank you.

Shri T.C.A. Rangachari, former Ambassador, Visiting Professor, Academy of Third World Studies, Jamia Millia University, Delhi.

 

I want to thank the Institute of Asia Pacific Affairs and Ms Sondhi for asking me to be here. As the Chairperson said earlier, I am among those who can call themselves a student of Chinese affairs, but I am certainly not an expert on democracy and China. A lifetime of study of China is not enough to make you an expert. It is, I suppose, studying what is going on China that qualifies one to say something on the subject. But before I do that I would like to recall my association with Mr Sondhi. It was very brief and episodic. I remember the first time we met was way back in 1967 when he had just won the election from New Delhi to become a member of parliament. One of the things that the Jana Sangh did then was to organise a rally in Connaught Place at what is now Palika Bazaar but in those days there was no underground structure, only a big open green space. They had invited Cho Ramaswami to come and speak.  There was a huge crowd at the place. The first sentence that Cho Ramaswami said was mujhe hindi nahi atha (I do not speak Hindi). This was a Jan Sangh crowd and when you go back forty years, Hindi was a big issue with Jan Sangh at that time and to say this to an audience in Delhi - a Jan Sangh audience - mujhe hindi nahi atha I thought was inviting big trouble. But the whole audience burst into huge applause. That phenomenon of somebody confessing to ignorance and being approved for it was totally novel. Now, of course, it is commonplace. At that time I was in the Delhi University and was the President of the College Student Union. I was in Jubilee Hall. Mr Sondhi came to see me. I was very impressed that he should do so and it did great credit to him as he was a sitting MP. The immediate trigger for the meeting was the protest demonstration organised by us students outside the Soviet Embassy in support of Czechoslovakia and against the invasion by Soviet Union Forces in mid-1968. He came to see me because I was one of the organisers of that demonstration. He came all the way to Jubilee Hall and asked, what is it that we can do together? We had a long discussion about issues relating to human freedoms which was the issue at stake in Czechoslovakia. Then, subsequently, we talked about what the Jana Sangh party could do, and what Mr Sondhi could do for our movement. At that time the University had youth wings of various parties, the Youth Congress, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, the Samajvadi Yuvjan Sabha, and the Students’ Federation. There were many student bodies and all were relevant when we  talk about democracy because these organisations have played a role right from the university level onward to build institutions of democracy. We as a group were apart from all these and not affiliated to any political party or organisation but we were into the politics of the university. So I said we don’t want the assistance of any political party and whatever we were doing is because we are committed to certain values. We had collected money from among the students in order to print posters, organise transportation and make banners etc.  He was good enough to understand my sentiments and didn’t insist. Thereafter I did not meet him till he became the Chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research. By that time I was back here in the Ministry, dealing with China and Japan. There was a big Japanese grant that had been promised to India when Rajiv Gandhi visited Japan several years ago which was still lying unutilized. I met him several times in his capacity as Chairman of the ICSSR for the implementation of the programme. So, as I said, my association was episodic. But what I do recall about him was his commitment to the values of freedom and values of democracy. He was a man who was committed and determined to pursue his concepts, his ideas, and his values. Therefore I am particularly grateful to you, Ms Sondhi, for asking me to be here and giving me this chance to recall and remember these events of forty years ago.

 

 

As far as the question of democracy and China is concerned, Mr Pant referred to the question of history and what kind of history there has been of democracy in China. Scholars tell us that the concept of democracy is not inherent in Chinese culture or political philosophy. It is not entirely in conformity with Confucian ideology of harmony, obedience and so on. But there has been a tradition of democracy and advocacy of democratic values going back at least a century and more. If you look back to the end of the 19th century Yang Zi Chao carried out a campaign against Qing dynasty rule in China. He was one of those who called for increased participation in the government by the people. Of course for all his troubles, his pamphleteering, his protests and his demonstrations and so on, the Qing dynasty forcefully cracked down on all the democratic forces and he was forced to flee to Japan. While in Japan, he translated works of several western political philosophers into Chinese and his audience were essentially the intellectuals and intelligentsia in China. But again his concept of democracy was developed through the prism of Confucianism.

 

There is a question that is still debated not just in the context of China but generally, and we in India were also for a long time proponents of this theory which is: How do you juxtapose the political and economic rights of citizens? How do you juxtapose individual rights against the rights of the state or the power of the state? For a long time there has been this debate, including as I said, something which we have advocated, that you can’t look at political rights in isolation and have to put them together with economic, social and cultural rights. There are separate covenants in human rights conventions - the covenant on civil and political rights and on economic, social, and cultural rights. Many countries like India have become signatories and ratified both covenants. There are also many countries, notably the United States that has not done so; it does not subscribe to the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights.  Now, in the case of Yang Zi Chao, he did not see any difference between individual rights and public interest. The right of the individual citizen was essentially an instrument through which one could strengthen the state. If one follows this logic, it is also evident in the way in which communist China approached the concept of democracy. Essentially, over the years - pre-revolution and post-revolution and even currently - the underlying philosophy was that it was necessary to have primacy of the rights of the state rather than the rights of the individual. This is not so atypical or new. Western democracies went through a similar period till they came to uphold the rights of the individual over the state. There is a whole body of legislation leading towards what human rights are today. If you go back to the stages of development two hundred years ago, even in India, today I would say that the individual rights are not always in primacy. One example one can cite is unresponsiveness or lack of popular participation in decision-making. Those of us who live in Delhi know that nothing could be more unpopular at the moment than the BRT corridor. If only there had been a greater dialogue with people of the area who are going to be affected, if only there was a greater degree of participation and decision making of the people involved in the project, then possibly we could have avoided many mistakes. In the specific case of BRT I can say this with some personal knowledge, because we did have some discussion with the authorities concerned but they were never willing to listen to any of the problems we anticipated and which subsequently arose.

 

Down the line, through the period when the Chinese communist party gained and established control in China, the running thread has been that the party is supreme and it is the party that provides leadership to the state. The one major change that came about was during the Cultural Revolution when with the blessing of Mao Zedong himself, the people were encouraged by the slogans of Cultural Revolution and bombarded the party headquarters. At the time, Chairman Mao said something which in some way could also be interpreted as Gandhian. He said that the truth could lie with a minority of one. There is now revisionist historiography. I don’t mean the individual is back but simply in a sense of revising conventional judgements that have been made in the past. As revisionist historiography has it, statements made in 1960s by Mao Zedong were fairly self-serving. But once he had re-established control over the party mechanism, the party reverted back to the traditional formulation that it provided leadership of the state and society.

 

 

The second exception possibly was post-1976 and then again the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident at the time of the Qing Ming festival. That became the immediate provocation for the Gang of Four to establish control. They were overthrown when the process of reversal started in 1978. That was the second phase when issues relating to peoples’ participation and voice of the people emerged. The Tiananmen incident surprised Chinese authorities. What was very interesting, perhaps ironic, was that during a part of that time Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev was in Beijing. For a long time, due to Sino-Soviet differences the Chinese people had only been told that the Soviet Union was revisionist, later social imperialist and so on. It was ironic to see a leader of that country being upheld as a symbol of freedom and democracy in China because of his advocacy of perestroika and glasnost. If you go a little bit further down the road, strangely enough, one of the results of the advocacy of the perestroika and glasnost reform was the collapse of the Soviet Union. And, interestingly enough, the opposition to those concepts led to China becoming much stronger economically and perhaps also more centralised. So it is a matter of historical judgment on who was right on the issue of openness, freedom and democracy.  I am sure there will be judgements and assessments made from that perspective, that opposition to the values of freedom and democracy etc seemed to have come out much more successfully than the advocacy of freedom and democracy in the sense of maintaining the country as one cohesive whole and maintaining control over society.

 

It was for the first time then that one started hearing about what came to be known as the fifth modernisation. When the process of reform started the Chinese leadership talked in terms of four modernisations, which were Agriculture, Industry, Defence and Science and Technology. Then came the fifth modernisation that was Democracy. Its leading advocates, in fact, in many ways became a symbol. Probably the association that the Chinese had in their own mind with the West was of democracy which was very prosperous. Therefore, if China had democracy, it would become prosperous. It was perhaps very simplistic and also faulty logic, but they associated democracy with strength, power, wealth and so on.

 

Now how do the Chinese officials themselves view democracy? First, we in India can see echoes on the issues of democracy. The Chinese say that democracy is the outcome of the development of human civilization. It is generated internally not imposed by external forces. At the same time the Chinese also say that the leadership of the communist party of China is an objective requirement. It is necessary for promoting socialist modernisation, for saving unity and keeping Chinese society harmonious and stable. It is important to understand this concept of stability that the Chinese are advancing in the context of democracy, because the explanation that they give relates to the great disparity in terms of development between urban and rural areas and between different regions. It is of significance for China to have stable state power. Only then, China can concentrate on the development of the country’s strategy and goal of modernisation and minimise all kinds of unnecessary and unwanted internal political strife.

There are two ways of looking at it as the Chairman posed the question earlier about dissent. What is the value of the dissent and should dissent be suppressed? In the Chinese view, dissent clearly is not conducive to the implementation of developmental goals and achievement of developmental objectives. The other way of looking at this is relevant to the Indian context. Maybe too much disputation is not also conducive to the attainment of those goals. There is a political consensus in China. The Chinese are commemorating 2008 as the 30th anniversary of the commencement of the reforms and liberalisation programme. There is a political consensus in China that she has to continue with this programme to grow.

 

 

If you look back to the time I referred to earlier about Mr. Gorbachev and his perestroika, glasnost and so on, the first thing that Deng Xiao Ping did after the collapse of the Soviet Union was to undertake a very extensive tour of the southern provinces which were in the vanguard of Chinese economic development. He pushed for greater reform, greater liberalisation and greater development. Some in the Politburo in Beijing were talking in terms of a need for political reform in the sense of juxtaposing economic and political reform. Those amongst the leadership in Beijing who were advocating reform lost out and Zhao Tsu Yang was one of them. The point was that Chinese leaders, Deng Xiao Ping in particular, pushed for greater economic reform and liberalisation; the goal of political reform and modernisation was relegated to the rear. So stability was required for the purpose of ensuring that there was no dissent which got out of hand. This was very important in the course of the last ten years. According to the Ministry of Public Security, in 1994 there were ten thousand protests throughout China. It increased to eighty-seven thousand in 2005. There are different ways of dealing with protest; we know the most recent example of what happened in Rajasthan. But here we have a huge increase in the number of protests. One can refer also to the case of the protest in Tibet and how it was handled. There are ways in which a protest can be handled so that more protests can be discouraged. 

 

But in spite of all these, Chinese advance in economic development in the last thirty years has been phenomenal. Today, we Indians are proud of having $300 billion in foreign exchange. The Chinese are holding $1.8 trillion. We are very happy about having foreign trade with the world somewhere in the region of $300-350 billion. The Chinese are near $2 trillion. China, after Mexico and Canada, has become the largest export destination for the United States. For a long time China has been a leading exporter to the United States.  Whenever Americans have thought in terms of imposing restrictions on trade with China, the Chinese have pointed out that if you do that the cost of living in the United State will go up because we are the ones providing the cheap goods that reduce the cost of living in America. Those who followed the negotiations between Europeans and Chinese will be familiar with so called bra-war. About three years ago, we had this absolutely ridiculous situation when the Europeans, having imposed a quota on Chinese, under pressure from their importers and retailers went back to the Chinese to ask what the quota should be. So Chinese economic gains are remarkable and very impressive. At the same time, disparities are also growing. I gave you one indicator in regard to the number of the protests in China even while about 250 million people have been brought up above the poverty line in the last thirty years. The unemployment rate has gone up. There is under-employment and disguised unemployment. There is the problem of migration and rural-urban disparities and so on. All of these ordinarily would be normal features in any growing economy. Certainly we have similar problems in India. But the reason why the world speculates on the ability of China to stay together and sustain the economy is because of questions about China’s ability to successfully deal with these problems. This is an argument the Chinese themselves make because the stability of China is seen in terms of suppression of dissent. We have a democracy and therefore dissent is a kind of a safety valve. We can have a lot of protests all over the country and nobody questions the stability of India. Nobody questions the survivability of political institutions because people say that this is a demonstration of the democratic system in India: it strengthens the democratic system. But the Chinese authorities do not allow for that kind of safety valve. Because of this lack of the tolerance of dissent and insistence because of the need to maintain social stability, dissent is suppressed and that, in turn, leads to questions as to sustainability and political stability in China.

 

There is economic decentralisation and there could be political decentralisation. This might lead to a reform of political institutions. In some ways, this has happened in India and maybe China would come to have something comparable like Panchayati Raj. There are rural elections at the village level in China. But unlike in the case of India, there is no comparable electoral system emerging at the national level or provincial level. We in India also have similar problems regarding corruption in elections, candidates not being allowed to contest elections apart from other ways in which candidates might be made to win or lose. These are all something that are not unfamiliar in India. Despite an election mechanism at the local level, the extent of power that can be exercised by the local level Chinese bodies is still very limited. This is again not something unfamiliar to India. In a sense again this is a reflection of what Deng Xiao Ping said about thirty years ago in analysing what was wrong with the way the Chinese system was working: that it was a feudal culture. That again is something which we Indians are not unfamiliar with in our political system with due respect to many of the people present here who are involved one way or the other with political parties. In India also there is the feudal culture that Deng Xiao Ping talked about.

In China, there has been a fair amount of cooperation in terms of training in law and rule of law with international organisations and on a bilateral basis. The concept of rule of law has not necessarily evolved out of that. There is  still the question that any foreign investor asks himself - what kind of legal regime am I operating in?  India comes out a little better than China because there is a certain predictability and transparency and also some degree of accessibility to the judicial system, which is not always there in China.

 

Lastly, I come to the flow of information that is absolutely essential for the functioning of any democratic system. If I go back again to 1977, I remember how everybody in Delhi seemed to know by mid-day that Sanjay Gandhi was losing. The election result was not announced till almost mid-night. One of the counting centres was at the UPSC in Shah Jahan Road. Everybody seemed to know that the Janata party candidates were leading in the election although nobody was allowed to come out or go in. So this word of mouth communication is very strong in India. Everybody seemed to know about the escapades of Subramaniam Swamy during the Emergency. Whatever was circulating at that time was entirely by word of mouth because there was nothing on Doordarshan, nothing on the radio and newspapers were not allowed to publish any of this at that time. In China, this is not as easy.  Maybe this is something that should properly form a subject for more research and maybe one should encourage students to look into this.  I suspect one of the reasons why people’s word of mouth transmission of information is much less in China is one of the consequences of the Cultural Revolution where people were made to denounce each other including spouses and even children and parents, and so a degree of care is exercised when speaking on matters political. On issues other than political there might be much greater freedom available in China. What we are concerned with are the political issues. Even on the Internet, some of the published literature suggests that there are some fifty thousand people who act as internet police. There is a contemporary example of our having some problems with Blackberry. But I don’t suppose that is quite the equivalent of having Internet police which look into every single communication to see if there is anything objectionable or subversive.

 

Certainly the future of China is very bright and economically there is no question that they are going to be one of the leading players in the world. In many ways perhaps they do not exercise the power that they have already acquired. If China is truly to become a world power, I think that the Chinese will have to think for themselves and come to the conclusion that it can only be done if there is much greater level of participatory governance and much greater level of responsiveness and interaction between the ruled and rulers. No one knows whether the communist party of China will survive as a single party or whether it will become one of many parties in a pluralist system. The character of the communist party itself has changed in many ways because we don’t see the kind of campaigns that we saw in the 50s and 60s, and 70s. In many ways the communist party has internalised and institutionalised the system of accommodating dissent, so long as there is acceptability of certain basic framework for China’s political system. But this may not be enough because in the world the exercise of leadership is quite apart from material wealth. It is also necessary to have certain values. The Americans have gone very wrong in Iraq partly because they did not stay with the values of international community and acceptable values for international behaviour. That would apply to other countries that have aspirations to become great powers. Therefore my hope certainly is that China would become more responsive and participatory in its governance, more transparent, more accessible and more open in its political structures. Whether it will happen in next ten years or twenty years is of course a big question and it is not prudent for any social scientist to make predictions of an astrological kind.

 

Thank you very much.

 

 Dr. Swaran Singh, Associate Profesor

Centre for International Politics, Organisation & Disarmament, S.I.S, J.N.U

 

I wish to sincerely thank Mrs. Madhuri Sondhi and her institute for inviting me to be part of this important conference.  Also, continuing with the general tenor of all of us remembering our association with Professor M. L. Sondhi (in whose name this host institution has been set up), I must also share, very briefly, my own association with Professor M.L. Sondhi.  Professor Sondhi was my teacher at Jawaharlal Nehru University.  And, apart from all things that you may be aware about him, I have the memories of a young student who found this Professor extremely accessible to his students.  It is only gradually and much later that we were to discover his other great achievements.  That was something very unique about his personality. 

 

I think this memory of mine of Professor M.L. Sondhi has direct relevance to the theme of democracy that we are debating here today.  In some ways it  also highlights how such relationships, perceived by young minds, can influence the whole evolution of certain understandings about democratic traditions and processes at all levels.  This fond memory of Professor Sondhi clearly flows into my presentation in our discussion about the prospect of democracy in the People’s Republic of China. 

To start with a rather academic question, is there anything like ‘the democracy’ or are we looking for some preconceived prospects of democracy in China? Large societies like India’s and China’s carry a historical baggage of wisdom and remain full of multiple contradictions.  Theoretically speaking, democracy is known to pacify and smooth these social contradictions and to ensure that these contradictions do not lead to conflict and result in any serious damage. There are democratic ways to channelize these contradictions to even make them productive and useful. Nevertheless several contradictions that persist also make us look at how we can establish and evolve more workable norms and values systems that allow space for pluralism for contradictions.

 

The pertinent question remains: how do we establish various processes through which we govern our lives in general, including developing political systems like democracy?  Mention is repeatedly made of several theoretical models of democracy that have existed so far.  For instance, one of the most successful models that we often talk about in this part of the world actually happens to be one of the authoritarian democracies.  Singapore is an example one could cite here as a model of authoritarian democracy.  In some respects though, this has been far more successful then most of our other majoritarian democracies, like India.  Even in this majoritarian democracy of India, given the inherent limitations, a leader with as low as 30 per cent of the national vote could emerge as the most popular prime minister of India.  The opposite is also true.  In a trust vote in Indian Parliament, a party, one whose Member of Parliament had already been sworn in as provincial Chief Minister, continues to vote as Member of Parliament, bringing down an otherwise popular government.  So in some cases, even one man can make all the difference. But majoritarian democracy remains perhaps the most agreeable kind of democracy and is perhaps the most popular kind of democracy around the world.

 

II

There are several other theoretical models when one talks about abstract concepts of democratic systems as debated by the knowledgeable experts. What do you think of democracy with two political parties as against one with a multitude of political parties?  But then, these are exactly the real contradictions that democracies seek to resolve.  Even in popular democracies, one can have a situation of simple directorial elections or manipulated referendums.  One can have indirect elections as happens in the US.  Or, one can have proportional representation.  One could have thriving democracies with internal democracy within political parties remaining an anathema.  More specifically, when you look at the operationalization of popular democracies, then rigging has also to be seen as an extremely popular method of running a democratic system.  Such systems often have violence and muscle power and money power as extremely critical operational tools of running such democracies. In some way and sometimes we think of this as an erosion of the model that we had evolved for ourselves. Therefore, nations have evolved various methodologies in establishing the appropriate processes for an ideal model that we think best suits our societal or political conditions.

 

It is important to underline that all these contradictions remain critical and integral to the process of strengthening a whole range of democratic models and traditions.  It is from this perspective that one needs to examine the political systems in the People’s Republic of China.  To do so from any preconceived notions and expectations built-on therein can not only be a futile exercise but also prove misleading and counterproductive.  Normally, there remains a general expectation from China to allow much greater individual freedom, especially greater freedom of expression at the individual level.  This means that most of us already carry our own yardstick with which we wish to measure the success and failure of democracy in China.  This slides into a ‘politics’ of democracy mode where democracy becomes a slogan and even a tool for coercion, and our focus on democracy as a system for people’s participation in decision-making at large remains remote.  The aim rather seems to prescribe: this is my kind of democracy and I am the sheriff so you better follow my example.  Do you have the similar kind of the democracy?  If you do not have the similar kind of democracy then you do not have the democracy.

 

Such sermonizing goes across all sectors and all aspects of  relationships around the world get influenced by it, whether it is nuclear non-proliferation or economic sanctions on trade or cultural relationships that result in fears about Hollywood or fears about the Americanisation of our young people.  It seems as though the powerful have all the right to prescribe what model others should follow.  The sheriff always tells you what the model is.  If you are not following the model so prescribed then perhaps you do not have any useful model.  One area of contention in recent years has been the fact that there are country studies done by the United States on human rights and democracy in China.  There is of course certain publicity hype on it every year.  The Human Rights Watch in New York makes sure that it informs the world about the 4th of June every year and how the Chinese have not done anything nor told the world or its own citizens about what happened to the protestors on that day at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

 

Similarly, there is another point of view.   If you go to Tiananmen Square on 4th of June any year, you see that there is no event marking that sad day of 1989. There is normally nothing happening there.  This can be understood as an action-reaction phenomenon. As a system and/or process, democracy has both components of domestic and international equations.  If western capitals seem to be pushing these events too hard on China the Chinese side seems to be responding by saying that absolutely nothing happened on that day.  Nevertheless, one can notice a tremendous amount of increase in plain-clothes men that police that square on this day every year, which says a lot.  Perhaps that points to something uncomfortable in China’s overall evolution in recent years.

 

So there are contradictions.  And, we must continue to be aware of these inherent contradictions as we discuss the tenor and terms of democracy in China.  Democracy itself remains entrenched and seems all the more heading for contradictions, although of course, it also aims at resolving some of these contradictions and doing so smoothly and making them productive if possible.  These contradictions get further multiplied in the case of civilizational states like China.  A definitive exposition of how various paths on various occasions have come to play a role inside China remains an issue of interest around the world.  Mao himself, during the initial phases of the Cultural Revolution and Deng Xiaoping both tried to channelize these contradictions.

 

The current phase of China’s evolution is normally plotted from the momentous changes that occurred from year 1989. Multiple innovative faces of democracy and greater freedom have been built up over the years.   Communist China has had a tradition of Big Chinese Characters put onto huge charts and placed in public places as symbols of demand for democracy. When people start putting up big character charts in certain specified places it is often projected as a spontaneous upsurge.  That shows that a greater expression of conflict is asking for attention.  But it is important to also highlight that conflict is natural to human beings and inbuilt in modern societies where a variety of diversities collide in the rapid pace of human life. 

 

III

To come to our specific discussion on prospects of democracy in China, I plan to deal with this theme of democracy and prospects for democracy in China by using four or five important studies that appeared on the subject during the last twenty-two years.   Every five, six or seven years, major research produces some startling truths about how democracy is viewed in and about China, that is, if it is found there.  Also, this exercise would tell us something about the larger trends towards democracy that have been so assiduously reviewed in the case of China by experts from all parts of the world.  Let us see what they have to tell us before I say something of my own in few words on what I think is happening in China as far as prospects of democracy are concerned.

 

To begin with our first exposition, about four years before the famous Tiananmen Square incidents, a very important study by Andrew Nathan titled Problems of Democratisation in China was published by Knopf of New York in 1985.  In some ways even then, in the mid-1980s, an assumption on which these all such studies began their research was that western democracy is now the way of life around the world. They noticed that there were increasing pressures for all non-democratic regimes – whether monarchical, single party rule or military regimes – to increasingly try and seek some kind of western style public participation in decision-making or, at least, public endorsement of their policies.  They wanted to place China in that context, and, to some extent, some trends were becoming visible in China.

 

Andrew Nathan’s book came to the conclusion that China has had and would continue to have its own different variety of democracy and freedoms.  Mention was made of Confucian culture and of a certain shared Chinese ethos that accepted the presence of conflicts in everyday life and how to manage them.  They do not celebrate conflict.  Western democracies sometimes appear to do so.  In western traditions, if you are an independent individual and especially an intellectual, then you must demolish everything that the government does as wrong.  That is often projected as a way of establishing your individual freedom and that remains a cardinal principle of democracy.  Highlighting contradictions and highlighting conflicts with the establishment are seen as important symbols of democracy.  In some ways, this is seen as real democracy.  If you are writing very harsh articles analysing government policies then that is seen as freedom of expression.  In such a situation, if you are celebrating a particular leader’s decisions, then probably the media may not publish your views, as this is not quite acceptable in a democracy like ours.  The assumption is that if press houses are supporting the establishment then it is not potent democracy.  These are some contradictions that are seen as natural for democracy.  

 

Andrew Nathan highlights that in western democracy there is tremendous emphasis on individual freedom and its projection in terms of symbols.  On the other hand, in the Chinese case, citizen rights are juxtaposed against State rights in the name of ‘public’ interest.  This is a throwback to Hobbes’ theorization that citizens join together to create a State which seems to put an end of anarchy and symbolizes the people’s will.  How can the people’s will be realised if it varies?  I may want to ask each individual to cast a vote or have some other way of expressing what is the ‘popular will’ which then becomes ‘public’ interest.  The study by Nathan says that, in his research, this did not happen even once in Communist China. Communist China has established some democratic credentials nevertheless.  Even earlier, great men like Sun Yat-Sen were celebrated amongst others by Leninists as a great spokesman for people’s democracy.  People’s Democracy was the Soviet expression for democracy and  this also highlighted and propagated the fact that their brand of democracy was of a different kind.  This is something akin to what has been happening in European experiments.  Many western scholars agree that there are different kinds of democracies which emphasise the public interest and harmony rather than  emphasise individual freedoms; nor do they celebrate conflict.  That is the kind of democracy which is gradually evolving in the China’s case.

 

IV

Secondly, about seven years after the Tiananmen Square incidents, that is in 1993, the second important study published was titled, Chinese Democracy and the Crisis of 1989: The Chinese and American Reflections.  This was edited jointly by Roger V Des Forges, Luo Ning and Wu Yen-bo.  They tried to compare the events of June 1989 with other global revolutions.  With the advantage of hindsight, it seems that during the early 1990s all talk about 1989 seemed to strike the imagination as of it being one of the major watershed events in China’s political life.  Accordingly, this was compared with events like those of October 1917 or the 1789 French Revolution.  But by the time this study appeared in press, most commentators had already started saying that the comparison was a little overstretched and the implications of what 1989 could have achieved were beginning to erode. 

 

However, despite its limitations, it still made an important contribution to the understanding of democracy in China.  Among other things, for instance, it highlighted a very critical hypothesis, that Chairman Mao himself had a vision of democracy for China.  Some different projections of Chairman Mao have become popular and today he is seen as something of a puzzle by certain quarters even in China’s publicity.  Chairman Mao, for instance, believed that backward and peasant-dominated societies –   as was China – needed a socialist revolution as an intermediate and transitional phase.  Before achieving the socialist revolution they needed, he believed, a phase of what he described as ‘new democracy’.  And many experts believe that may be China is still in the phase of the new democracy, and so  China’s real communist revolution is still to come.  As this book concludes, these ideas of Chairman Mao in developing a new democracy for China were useful formulations for debates and were found extremely relevant in the context of what was happening in China soon after the Tiananmen Square incidents and in the last few years of the 1980s and earlier 1990s. 

 

V

Thirdly, seven years after this aforementioned book, in 2000, Shuisheng Zhao published a book titled, China and Democracy: Reconsidering the Prospect of Democratic China with Routledge.  Among others, well-known professors of Harvard University like Larry Diamond wrote a chapter in this book and this is the one to which I am particularly referring here.  As we know, Professor Larry Diamond has done tremendous work on the developing world, especially on the theme of developing democracy.  He believes that the economic-driven integration of China was making China increasingly dependent on the outside world for goods, services, culture, information and so on.  So if you saw youngsters on the Xi Dan shopping Malls on Chang’an Street, they would not look very different from those buying Pierre Cardin in Paris or Times Square in New York.  So, there is a globalisation of generations that is occurring across the world, including China.  For instance, they look at same Internet, they chat on same messenger and they do very similar things and have similar tastes and preferences after all.  This growing economic integration is leading to internationalisation of certain mode of a life style in China. 

 

Suisheng Zhao infers that this transformation is allowing Chinese people a certain access to different information, different interpretations and different ideas about what happens around the world and inside China. That of course has to be taken with a pinch of salt as in China these freedoms can be reduced in a flash.  This is something that constantly happens as China takes recourse to jackboot reactions.  Often freedoms like access to internet are confronted with harsh measures and this makes people scared enough for the next six or so weeks not to browse the Internet that much as they used to do before.  I had a little experience of spending a year at Beijing University and witnessed large number of small kiosks disappearing overnight and the clean wall of the Beijing University becoming visible for a change.  This also highlights the other side of the truth that there existed these thousands of internet access computers where students could have access to all the websites they wanted. 

 

There is in a certain sense a very Confucian way of dealing with dissent.  For example, in a normal family anywhere in the world, when Dad says to his son to smoke only one cigarette a day, he knows the son is going to smoke two or three or four.  But he is not going to tell him four are okay because then the son will smoke five or ten.  The jackboot policy in China therefore reveals the truth that there is a certain amount of leakage and a certain amount of defiance that constantly exists in China.  Professor Larry Diamond places hope on this fact for the possibility of an eternal flow towards a greater internationalised format of democracy.  However, he also believes that this is not necessarily going to be an American model of democracy though it could be closer to the Singaporean model.  He sees this driven by political authorities via changes they find acceptable. It clearly hinges on the capacity of the political authorities to negotiate this political transition.  Without this, democracy becomes an existential threat to the political authorities themselves.

 

For instance in China’s immediate periphery, the clear difference of the evolving nature of democracy in Nepal and Bhutan provides an interesting comparative study.  In the one case the King’s position is ensured and it is through his own initiatives that he is in a benevolent way, introducing democracy.  In the other case there is a popular upsurge undermining monarchy and the King is given 15-days notice to vacate his palace.  So these two examples of democracy seem to have a contradiction i.e. either you can have too much freedom immediately, which attracts an extremely high cost of incivility or uncertainty or violence or, you could have a slow moving, gradual democracy at the pleasure of a great king or authoritarian monarch.  In the later case, democracy will come about slowly ensuring that the King’s own position and persona is not threatened at any stage.

 

If we look at Deng Xiaoping, we notice a picture of China’s paramount leader allowing a certain amount of democracy and in fact repeatedly highlighting that he wants democracy for China.  There are several of his recorded speeches on the subject, that a  more substantial code of conduct is required than visible in the early evolutionary stages of various western democracies.  China’s speciality remains its emphasis on the economic aspects of the democratic process.  I remember that in India, we used to have the right to property as a fundamental right in our constitution.  But obviously we emphasised more on political rights and therefore perhaps we appreciate less economic rights: and this fundamental right was taken away during India’s 42nd amendment to the constitution.  Whether my house belongs to me or does not belong to me is not seen as critical compared to my right to vote or raise slogans.  Economic rights are not an important issue.  The Chinese, on the other hand, have been moving the other way round.  They are gradually making private property a possibility which underlines a huge transformation from the commune system to a household responsibility system to now freedoms on renting farmland for fixed tenures.  Owning all kinds of personal property is some thing of a new trend in China.  So China seems to be evolving certain kinds of democracy by their own merit.

 

VI

Fourthly, and the last study on China’s democracy that I want to elaborate here is most exciting and currently hugely debated.  This is one by James Mann titled, China’s Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression that was published during 2007.  I am yet to see a review or comment on this book that appreciates its conclusions because this book talks about the ‘de-democratisation’ of China.  It alleges that all scholars of China have basically ganged up in looking at powerful China and often they are seen propitiating this powerful China.  Therefore, they do not highlight all the wrongs that go on inside China, but  basically highlight the good that came about after the Deng period.  In actual reality this has not happened though this book has in the meanwhile become a best seller, partly because it so much criticised around the world.

 

James Mann comes to the conclusion that China is de-democratising.  This he does in the face of the fact that the whole world seems to be today debating about prospects of democracy in China.  So there is tremendous external pressure on China to pursue path of democracy which never existed before.  Mention is often made of whether such external pressure or even internal pressure or some other kind of pressure would be more effective in China.  One can have a view on this as to whether there is any possibility of generating internal pressures on China’s rulers and how far and how much the internal pressure can be created from outside.  In some ways I believe that the internal pressures are critical but have limited potential, whereas external pressure has unlimited potential but limited capacity to influence.  So both sides have to keep ensuring that they appreciate the fact that both have serious stakes in the way China is evolving.  After all, what outside commentators say depends of their own grooming and the life styles they lead and has little to do with what the Chinese do.  The opposite also, to some extent true. 

 

Thus the fact that China is evolving and that the Chinese themselves are voicing their commitment of moving towards democracy is beyond doubt. Chinese leaders have proposed that democracy remains their principal goal.  To that extent, there is at least, in terms of the Chinese vision, a movement toward democracy.  In fact, they are claiming to be already making tremendous progress in implementing several initiatives from economic rights to legal reform to grass-root elections. Now, fifty and sixty people can come together in a local village and they can actually propose their own candidate for local elections.  Whether the candidates have any chance of winning or getting respect is immaterial.  But that is true in the case of most other democracies too.

 

We can look at our Indian Panchayati Raj system of grass-root popular participation and we know what actually makes a candidate become a Sarpanch i.e. head of this village-level institution of democracy in India.  There are multiple forces of muscle power, money power and caste equations that determine the outcome.  So, to go back to my original point, all these contradictions are normal and integral to democracies across all societies.  Accordingly, China is also very likely to continue to have her own set of contradictions and infirmities.  Only, no stable democratic system will allow too many sharp contradictions and will try and resolve minor ones all the time.  This makes democracy a dynamic system of politics which is constantly on the roll of evolution which creates space for improvements in all cases.  How fast each system will achieve improvements and how we do not know.  However, what we know is that the moment it threatens the very fabric of popular will, as happened in China in late 1980s, this will result in events like what happened in China on 4th June 1989.

 

VII

Therefore, the 4th of June 1989 symbolizes that essential momentum in the evolution of democracy though it seemed to threaten the extant political regime which often resorted to regressive jack-boot policy responses.  Nevertheless it has to be from these extant political regimes that one expects bold and historic initiatives for ensuring the sustenance of democracy.  Such regimes trying to freeze the evolution of democracy can do so only at the cost of making its evolution far more disruptive, and only at their own peril.  There are experts who believe that China is no longer the same country that was conceived of by its founding fathers.  Some even accuse it of no longer being a communist country.  Others opine that there is nothing wrong as communism is also an evolving ideology and has been changing constantly.  So if there are workers who feel justified in calling themselves part of the Communist Party, why not also people who can pay themselves into party membership and categorize themselves as white colour workers in plush offices?  There are people who see nothing wrong in it.  They ask, why cannot the workers working in plush hotel rooms and on smart laptops be called ‘workers’ as they are also working.  So, technically they are workers, just as much as those working in pig farms or factories.  They are not rent seekers and they are not landlords and they are not holding down the progress of their country.  This is an interpretation that China’s power elite likes to extend when it comes to debates on democracy.

 

The same is true of those debating the prospects of democracy in China outside China.  Some of them agree with the aforesaid interpretation and some do not.  But it is true that communism as ideology has evolved over a period of time.  If one was to look at the original source of great wisdom, at the father of this ideology, Karl Marx, he had assumed that the proletarian revolution would happen automatically.  It was to happen automatically in the form of a stateless and classless society that dissolved all its contradictions of relations-of-production amicably by using the principle of each according to his capacity to each according to his needs.  That, of course, did not happen and Comrade Vladimir Lenin had to evolve a new thesis that said that we needed a vanguard to lead such a social transformation. He called it the communist party and in case of formation of the Soviet Union, it was the Bolsheviks (later to become the Communist Party of Soviet Union or CPSU) that provided leadership to the proletariat. 

 

Then, in the case of China of 1921 (when China’s Communist Party was established), even this talk of this being the vanguard of a Chinese-proletariat-led communist revolution had no meaning and Comrade Lenin’s thesis had to be compromised.  In the case of Mao’s China, there was no industrial revolution and therefore no capitalism and no proletariat whatsoever.  So Chairman Mao had to evolve his communist revolution using agrarian peasant classes as his base.  Speaking in the language of Karl Marx, it is perhaps today that China is finally getting industrialized and evolving into a capitalist society which may soon produce a Chinese proletarian class.  So, does this mean that China is now finally ripe for a communist revolution?  Hence this story of the constant evolution of  revolution is not new to communism.  This must be seen as the backdrop against which to understand the recent evolution of the Chinese Communist Party.  Then there is the whole variety of contemporary communism, that of Cuba, of Vietnam and various Indian varieties.  Although varieties of communism appeared in recent times, globally communism has lost its shine.

 

VII

Let me conclude by considering how the Chinese look at their democracy.  One way to do so is to look into the semantics or jargon that is used by Chinese in their debates on prospects of democracy in China.  This can help us know if there is any movement in the direction which they describe as their democracy.  China often emphasises that their democracy is the one that takes ‘the-people-first’ approach and not one of individual-freedoms as is the case in most western democracies.  They put people first and therefore seek to achieve people-friendly governance.  That is how they express their vision of democracy in China.  In Chinese language, it is called min ju that means people to decide.  So, unlike western expressions, Chinese emphasise  people’s democracy of erstwhile soviet vintage, and this expression had briefly become the buzzword during China’s Cultural Revolution.  But in Chinese language this expression ‘people’s democracy’ translates into renmin minzu (i.e. people, people to decide) and this has not gone down very well with masses as it seems to duplicate China’s expression of minzu i.e. people to decide.  It, therefore, did not quite make sense in colloquial Chinese to speak using the Soviet expression.  So they simply use min zu i.e. people decide and/or people handle their affairs.

 

But, when Chinese use an expression to connote people-to-decide, it becomes ‘peoples’ interest and given China’s communist ethos this gets defined as people’s interest as defined and articulated by the Party.   This means that it becomes the Party’s interest in actual practice.  Again, it is important to underline the contradictions between the state and party.  It is not the State (national) interest that is the Party interest and it is presented as the public interest because the party defines it so.  In our case in India, for instance, it is also in some ways determined by our national elites which articulate what is our ‘national’ interest.  All one has to do is to look around India’s seniormost secretaries is various ministries and departments from a caste perspective.  This would reveal which caste is ruling this country even after six decades of thriving democratic experiments.  Each state has its own different ways of organising life and politics. 

 

Even in democracy it is not standard as to how many political parties should be ensuring people’s participation.  There could be one party democracy, two party democracy, multi-party democracy.  In India, for instance, multiple parties have evolved from the three fundamental streams known as rightist, leftist, and centrist parties.  In the case of China, there is one Party that has the monopoly on power but also about a dozen other parties that exist only in name.  Given their colonial experience, the Chinese have also been extremely sceptical about adopting western models or political culture, and they have been very shy and sensitive about bourgeois democracy.  But, given new trends of globalization and increasing transnational interactions and interfaces, Chinese democracy is gradually going to change and is likely to evolve as a mixture of some kind.  Chinese ideas are already influencing other countries and other countries’ ideas are influencing the Chinese way of life. 

 

IX

In this new 21st century context, some levels of playing fields are being created by new technologies and by the information revolution.  The information revolution has fostered new trends in democracy where political campaigns are run by mobile phones e.g. one leader sitting in a helicopter can be speaking to multiple gatherings attending his political meetings.  This is already in practice in India.  In the west, it is the internet and especially You-tube which is being increasingly used in political campaigns and elections.  These trends have nothing American or Indian or Chinese about them.  They are emerging across the world as natural ways of organising and seeking public endorsement.  So whether it is a President Musharraf seeking a referendum or any other leader needing public endorsement of his authority, they may all be using similar processes.  Whether it is the King of Bhutan or Nepal, they are increasingly going to rely on such common efficient means of finding ways of getting public endorsement for their continuing power and authority to organise governance.

 

Increasingly international norms like transparency have also emerged as critical yardsticks of good governance.  It is one area where international standards of democracy are going to gradually evolve a similar tenor and nature.  But that it would take long period of time also remains true because so many new stake-holders have emerged as critical players in the international system.  India and China, for example, are new stake-holders in the international organisation and implementation of global norms.  I assume that the whole issue of harmony or whole issue of public interest and whole issue of Confucian values is going to be a critical in the way in which China will influence the global understanding of democracy.  So, while we from the outside will influence how the Chinese move towards achieving greater processes of democratic decision making and governance, we are also likely to be influenced by Chinese visions and ethos.  But how far politically elites will be comfortable with outside influences (especially if these are coercive) and how they will set the pace of reforms can be highly facilitated by showing understanding of Chinese characteristics, having patience and using dialogue and cooperation.  This can be one way of socialising China on its way toward the democracy.  We perhaps also should not miss the point that China is also going to influence us all and we must stay open to such influences, especially when it comes to the way we understand the democracy in India and around the world. 

 

I conclude my presentation with this and I look forward to your comments and questions.  Thank you.

 

Youdon Aukatsang

Member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile

 

Good morning everyone.

I feel really privileged and honoured to be sharing the dais with such distinguished speakers here and also with such a distinguished audience. I am under the impression that I am here to lead a discussion but of course I would like to hear from the audience as well, who are distinguished and well known in the field. I am neither a specialist in Chinese studies like Professor Swaran Singh from JNU and nor I am an expert like Dr Rangachari. But what I am going to do today is not focus on theories of democracy or the history of democracy in China. By  and large  my interest in China is based on my observations from what I read in press, what I hear about China and also my own personal interest in Tibet, my own nation. So what I am going to do is focus on what I find currently of interest and I see that there are a number of interesting developments happening in China today. Of the two most interesting I found one is of people’s participation in the political process. Many of our speakers here also have dwelt done on that.

 

Before I go into these I also would like to thank Ms. Sondhi. I was also a student of JNU about twelve years back between 1992 to 1994, when I had the chance of being a student of Professor Sondhi. I also remember him as somebody very accessible and very friendly. This is also a moment to remember him and know how great a human being he was. I feel very honoured to be here today speaking at this venue and roundtable which commemorates Professor M.L Sondhi.

 

To get back to the topic. What I feel is that there are some interesting developments, which are of course somewhat of a challenge to China. When we talk about developments one thing that I find interesting is people’s participation. Now Professor Rangachari, former ambassador, also mentioned how from 1994 to 2004 there has been a tenfold or more increase in demonstrations and people’s participation. That is amazing especially considering how these people who know the likely result of their actions don’t worry about the consequences. People are coming out in protest whether as recently happened in Tibet or as in the recent month’s protest in Chengdu, where about 400 to 500 people were caught. It is remarkable how  they have used technology for public mobilisation. Technologies like websites, emails, SMSs and blogs etc have been used to mobilise people to come out on the streets. They did not worry about the consequences and got together and protested. That is a real indication of people saying that they want change and are ready for change. The way of handling protests was different in Chengdu and Tibet. In Chengdu we heard that four people were arrested from among the protesters against the chemical plant. Among these four protesters three have been detained and one of main masterminds has been arrested for subverting state security. These arrests derive from causes more related to the environment and social issues. But the manner of dealing with arrests of minorities whether they are from Tibet or Sinkiang (East Turkestan) is on a larger scale - you can see the difference. My focus is more on Tibet and what I have seen of the way they handle arrested Tibetans. Many kinds of public participation and public protests take place even in Shanghai as happened recently, and in Shama also. But there is great   discrimination between the way they are handled in minority areas and in mainland China.

 

I feel that an interesting development has been the use of technology in Tibet. It used to be difficult to get news about arrests inside Tibet: we got news only after the person was already behind bars or after a couple of months and sometimes even after a year. Now today if a person gets arrested we can receive pictures of them being arrested, pictures of people protesting and pictures of people who have been shot and killed. So people are getting very creative, innovative in the use of technology. They have really understood the principles of democracy and have a yearning for freedom and more democracy inside China.

 

On the other hand there are a lot of changes at the top levels of government even at the level of president and premier. If you read some of the statements that Premier Wen Jia Bao has recently been making at the National People’s Congress you will see he talked about how there will be more and more experiments with local government, at the moment of course at the village level. We have seen and heard from all the former esteemed speakers about how in the villages in China now village leaders are directly elected by the villagers. This experiment is going on in some areas of China. But I have read over the many years that the first experiment was implemented in the late 80s when the village panchayat or village election was implemented. At that time there was a system of direct nomination and the village officials nominated their representatives. The village in China falls under the township, and it is the lowest administrative unit. Village heads in the past have been chosen under a system of direct nomination by township officials, so people did not have a real choice although there did appear to be an election. There were no multiple candidates and people did not have the choice to elect whomsoever they wanted. But now I hear that is gradually changing as well and it is a very good sign at the village level. More candidates have been put up including several who are not party members. In the past the communist party dominated the village and the leaders had to be party members. So that is also changing and it is a good sign. In statements made by premier Wen Jia Bao in the last couple of years he expressed a desire that this practice of elected-government should not just remain as of now at the local level, but should reach the township and the provincial, and the prefecture too. But they have not asked for it at the national level at all. Still that is big progress. Besides what is also very clear from the statement made by the premier as reported in the press is that the premier himself is generally thinking in terms of more judicial independence and a system where there is a rule of law. At the recent March meeting of the National People’s Congress, the highest state organ, he said that we will be working on more democracy. He spelled out the word democracy and they are talking about democracy a lot. Whether it some response to external pressure or they really feel that they need to keep abreast of global trends of democracy like we are discussing, or whether it stems from the pressures the Beijing Olympics event imposes on them, there is real talk now even from the Prime Minister Wen Jia Bao on the need for a rule of law. He seems to demand the rule of law and greater democracy at the local level, and also wants more monitoring of corruption and suchlike cases. These are good signs emanating from the government.

 

Dr. Rangachari mentioned the covenants of economic and cultural and social rights and the covenants of civil and political rights. China has been signatory to both these covenants and ratified the economic, cultural and political rights probably in 2001. But we know about the non- implementation of political rights in China although they are very clearly stated in the constitution. The constitution of China is supposedly the supreme law of China. They have made a lot of amendments in the constitution. The human rights aspect was brought in via the latest 2004 amendment. They talk about all the peoples of China having the right to freedom of press, freedom of expression and freedom of speech. All these are clearly mentioned in the written law and it would look as though the Chinese people have a very good system and more democracy, more freedom and their rights are more respected. But in reality there is a problem with implementation. So at the moment it seems to be an indication of interest within the Chinese leadership which is being expressed as they look for more freedoms. They are more interested now even in the ICCPR: at the recent National People’s Congress meeting the Chinese premier mentioned that very soon China is going to ratify the international covenant on civil and political rights. So, that is a step forward.

 

 In dealing with the Beijing Olympics we are all now discussing how China might change with the Beijing Olympics and how they will bring a lot of international scrutiny on China’s human rights record and the way the Chinese are functioning. I think to a large extent it is true that the Beijing Olympics will bring international scrutiny on China. There will be pressure in the context of China’s showcase events that they conform with global trends. People are watching how things are going, how they are forging ahead, how they advance economically and how developed China has become. But at same time China has also laid down some rules for the Beijing Olympics. They have taken out a handbook that clearly suggests that they will not tolerate any kind of protest by the people. So, there is to be no sloganeering, no banner carrying - nothing. Therefore people will be under great surveillance and so will the press. The foreign press is being issued a handbook with clearly mentioned rules. It is very funny that they have issued a handbook for foreign journalists which says that they can freely interview people, organisations and individuals with the prior consent of these people. They passed this rule in the January of last year, which is going to expire in October 2008, so it seems there has been a demand for media freedom and a lot of pressure on China especially from the international Olympic Committee. I think it’s being specifically geared toward the need for making the Olympics more operational and move forward. So they have agreed to this just for the time being and beyond that we don’t know what is going to happen and that remains to be seen

 

Ms Sondhi, Professor Swaran Singh and Dr. Rangachari gave examples of the recent earthquake in Sichuan and how the Chinese have been more open about it as compared with Burma, which kept everything under a tight lid and did not allow relief or aid workers from outside. By contrast China has been very open to relief workers and aid workers. It is has been more open and more transparent. I think that is also because there was a new regulation on the disclosure of information on China. It was on May 1st ten days before the incident in Sichuan they passed a law that was a new regulation on the disclosure of the information. Just twelve days after that they had the earthquake and thus that was their first experiment or their first way to show that what they have put down in the regulations is being implemented. Regulations required that there should be a voluntary disclosure on topics like food safety, public health, emergency plans, early warning and any unexpected public situation. This was a test for China and they did well on that. Hence within ten minutes of that earthquake we saw reportage and media coverage of everything that happened. They showed how many people died and what happened. The relief workers were able get there on time. For the first time I was very surprised to see mass public grief openly shown on Chinese television. They showed people grieving with candles and they covered people from all over China, even from the so-called minority nationalities in the autonomous regions. The public was shown people carrying money to a big box with everybody lining up and putting money inside the box. It is a way of showing the solidarity amongst the Chinese people. On the other hand they were trying to show how they have opened up for the media and made it more transparent. So that is quite interesting as well.

 

The other thing is about recent crackdown over the Tibetan protests. An interesting development was that some thirty Chinese scholars presented twelve suggestions for dealing with the Tibetan issue. They sent an appeal to their own government. That is now happening frequently and people are getting more fearless and opening up. They are also showing that they have opinions and they care how the system is working. There was no report of their being arrested. I thought that was also very interesting.

 

Looking at the challenges that China faces, since I am neither a scholar nor a specialist on China I can only say that there are many interesting areas of development - things that are happening inside China. The Chinese leadership also to some extent at the top level especially the premier, seems to be moving forward. They are talking about judicial independence, more democracy and more participation of the people. But they need to change a lot. As the former speakers have mentioned the rule of law is very important. In China again in February of this year there was a White Paper on the rule of law. They quoted a number of examples in that White Paper to show that there is rule of law in China. We all know that on paper China has done really well whether it be the constitution of China or the rule of law, or regional or ethnic autonomy for the minorities. They have a number of freedoms and rights and also duties but these are not subject to implementation. When we talk about the rule of law we need an implementing body, i.e, courts but even lawyers are to a large extent appointed. The party has complete authority and it manipulates the appointment of judges and lawyers who are mainly chosen from former retired officials and former military people. So there has to be a change in that first. I am not talking about democracy but for any kind of change, because change is inevitable whether China takes the democratic way or whichever way. For that to happen there has first of all to be a change in the rule of law and there has to be independence from the party’s interference. It has to be on its own and needs separation of power between parties and the judicial law of the land. That’s really important. Today the government decides even the salaries and not just appointments of the prosecutors and judges throughout the whole judicial system. One thing that Wen Jia Bao also mentioned is that the party should not get involved in routine matters like salaries and appointments. So those are also things that need changing. Of course the party is involved not only in sensitive matters but in routine matters also. So there are feelings among the leadership of China that they also need to change. Thus there is going to be change in China.

 

I have already mentioned the communist party. The second most important thing is whether we like it or not, the party is the main organ although on paper you might find the National People’s Congress is the most important. But in reality the decision making body in China is the Communist Party itself within which there is a Standing Committee and members of the Politburo. If that does not change, then it is very difficult to see more improvement in the Chinese system. The party exercises control not just over the rule of law but also over the functions of the National People’s Congress that is supposed to be the highest level state organ. The party decides what is going to be talked about in the Congress and who is going to be the head. So it just makes proposals to them and it appears as though all decisions are coming down from the party.  The National Congress has become an endorsement and rubber stamp for the party. The party controls not just the People’s National Congress but also the military commission, which is a very important organ in China. So if the party doesn’t change then there is a little likelihood of more changes taking place in China. On paper again it is stated that the members or deputies of the National People’s Congress (NPC) are elected. It is also clearly stated in the constitution that they are elected by the lower level of the People’s Congress at the province level and at the autonomous level. Those people in the People’s Congress of the autonomous regions and provinces are further elected at the county level. All this is enumerated in the constitution but what actually happens is that deputies are planted and nominated directly.  Even the NPC head and the party secretary are chosen through a similar process. The names of the candidates who are standing for the election are given by the party and not by the people. The given names just have to be approved - thus it is more an action as a rubber stamp. So that has to change.

 

 

Finally as a Tibetan, I would say that though all those interesting changes are happening inside China, the so-called minorities including Tibetans are not a part of that change. There is a big contrast between the way they handled the protest inside Tibet and inside Shanghai or the mainland. Last year there was a protest in Shaimen where a huge number of people -  around seven thousand - protested against the government chemical plant. They knew the dangers of polluting the environment. But there was no arrest from that protest. Many people protested and eventually the Chinese government had to shelve the proposal for the chemical plant. But inside Tibet whether it’s a political matter of protest for more freedom, or shouting against mineral excavation as happened in Meynag last year, both are regarded as against the authority of China and people are arrested and put in the same prison. The authorities do not distinguish between the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas outside the autonomous region whether the protest is of a social nature or against a developmental project or a political protest. They just see all protests as Tibetans trying to subvert and protest against Chinese authority. The whole agenda is not same as in the mainland. With regard to minority nationalities theirs is basically an agenda of stability and control. If this remains then you can never have real democracy or talk about democracy when minorities are not treated well. I think one major way of looking at China is to see how it is going to deal with its minorities.

 

In conclusion I would say that there will be changes in China but they will be more in tune with their own agenda of stability and control, and will be determined largely by the economy. Economic determinism will be the principle they will use. So much remains to be seen. But the people’s will and the creativities of the people are very strong and show that they are ready for democracy and for more freedoms.

Thank you.

 

 

Questions & Comments

 

1. One of the ideas thrown up by Professor ML Sondhi was that there should be a guarantee of the type that has underwritten the stability of post-war Austria. That is a very thoughtful and original proposition which merits attention.

 

(Ms Sondhi was absent from the hall and the matter was not taken up)

 

2. (Ashok - ?)First of all thanks to the institute for having arranged this roundtable. There have been a number of not only interesting but also comprehensive presentations on the prospects of democracy in China in the post-Tiananmen era. I would like to congratulate the speakers.  There have been some very intellectual and interesting definitions of democracy.  Now, democracy in a few simple words means to me, doing things after discussion. When there is no discussion, then to my mind there is absence of democracy.   This applies not only to the government but to the whole social set up and especially to political parties. To have and to expect democracy in government and not have democracy in political parties is something that I consider as self-contradictory. At the same time despite all that has been said, and though I have not been posted in China, I was at a place next door in Korea for four years, which was a good listening post for China. My own feeling is also that as time is passing the degree of people’s participation in China’s government is increasing. That is a very positive sign for the health of democracy in the post-Tiananmen era. But the basic point remains that whether you like democracy or you want democracy, no country has the right to impose democracy on any other country especially by violent means.

 

Now a reference was made by one of the speakers to rigging in democracy.  On a lighter note may I say that I had a friend in the university who became a member of parliament and later on also a minister. He lost one election and when I met him at an evening party I asked,  Arre bhai,  how did you lose? Kyaa kuch vote nahin dalain? – meaning: did you not manage to rig some votes?  He replied “Bhai, pachees hazar dale the, phir bhi kam nahai bana tho kyai karain. I put in twenty five thousand (votes) but even that did not help, so what can I do?

 

3. I would like to raise a question which surprisingly was not referred to by any of the speakers.   If you talk about the prospects of democracy in China, it is surely necessary to discuss what is happening and has happened in Taiwan that would impact developments in mainland China. Do the experts see prospects for China developing in any way like Taiwan?

 

 

4. A lot of optimism was expressed today about the slow march of democracy of China.

(Chairman: Cautious optimism.)

I am reminded of the slogan given by the supreme leader of China -  Let a thousands flowers bloom.  When Mao Zedong gave that slogan lots of intellectuals in China took him literally and expressed dissent with the result that most of them were made to do menial work. Now who can place any credence in the present Chinese leadership as to whether they would ever march toward democracy or will the same thing happen to people who express a little dissent as happened in Tiananmen Square? This is something about which we become very emotional and put pressure on the Chinese leadership to introduce democracy in China sooner or later. Would any speaker kindly respond?

  

5. Vincent Wang University of Virginia, USA.   I wonder if the panel can entertain the hypothesis that the middle class in China today is a little different from the middle class we usually think of. In democratic theory and from empirical evidence, we often say that middle class is the vanguard of democracy, because with its growing material wealth its members will want greater political participation and thereby generate an impetus for democratisation. But according to my observation today’s middle class in China is basically conservative. They are very conservative because the government has actually established a compact with the rest of society which consists of a few pillars; one, that stability is the overarching value, second, economic development will trickle down to all including the minority areas, and third, that anything that will jeopardise this compact is a threat to the state. Therefore the middle class which currently enjoys the best standard of living ever in Chinese history actually has antipathy towards any possible disruption of the good life it enjoys. Tiananmen happened 19 years ago and if you look at the demographics I would say about 60 percent of Chinese people have never heard of Tiananmen. So that is a perspective we should keep in mind. The government basically said, so long as we all concentrate on economic development everybody can become rich. Do not touch politics and we can go on forever. As for the minorities, the basic policy in Tibet is to promote economic development to buy their acquiescence. Therefore any challenge is not tolerated by the rest of society. So the middle classes are basically very conservative and are actually in some kind of compact with the government. This does not bode well in actual practice for the prospect of democracy.

  

6: BP Agarwal, a former member of the diplomatic service. In political theory or in history the only example of marriage between a free or capitalist economy and totalitarian politics or government has been under fascism. Is there not a danger of China gradually sliding into a fascist state?  God forbid! We know what happened to fascist Germany and Italy, which are much smaller countries. Therefore it is very important that China’s economic development and progress towards capitalism is gradually directed towards some democratic model. We might say that China may prove an exception to the rule because of the tradition of Confucius, that a new kind of political example can be presented to the world. But is this really possible? Of course in Chinese history there are two streams, one of Confucius and the other of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu which possesses more freedom. So when the Chinese middle classes become as rich as the people in Taiwan will they want more political power? My question is that is there a danger of China sliding into fascism?

 

 Q:     7. Two recent books have been published: one by the Chinese Sun Shuyun “Ten thousand miles without a Cloud”, and one by Han Sarin who took the same journey. There was a very old Chinese scholar Hsuan Tsang who came to India in the seventh century and stayed for 14 years: I find that we are  republishing his books. At the end of Sun Shuyun’s book she recalled that she went back to the Hsuan Tsang’s monastery and saw what changes can be made in such a religious institution. Buddhism has been one of the cardinal links between India and China. If we look upon the Dalai Lama here as one symbol of that form of Buddhism which was exported by India to Tibet and had repercussions in many parts of the world, it might represent one possible change that will take place in China. Sun Shuyun’s documentary asks how much freedom is there in China to practice Buddhism?

  

  

8:  G. Choudhury, student of Chinese Literature and Politics. Here a lot of things have been talked about, particularly about changes in China. Ms Youdon pointed to a lot of changes but despite all that information you missed out one important change that has taken place in China, which is that a week back the Dalai Lama’s representative met the Chinese authority in a southern province at an unspecified place where almost more than five hundred reporters with western photographers were gathered but finally nobody come out form the building. Nobody knows where actually the meeting took place. These are great changes which you did not mention. I am sure you know the answer but for some reason avoided it in your talk. So please throw light on it.

 

Another change is shown by the recent demonstration in Shanghai against French food items and other products. They were closing down the shops where French goods are sold. But this demonstration was not mentioned as done by this or that group. It took place without any arrests or further consequences. It gives the impression that it was staged by the Communist Party of China.  They came at a specified time, demonstrated and went back within a minute. These are two things that we must keep in mind as we talk about the recent changes which I just wanted to highlight for your concern.

 

9. Mr. Rangachari, you have talked in so much detail about the history of the 60s and 70s. Most of us have been through this period but forgotten the details. Thank you very much for reminding us. But a lot of changes have taken place, which you may again like to highlight as for example what happened in Chinese history from 1949, from Mao-tse Tung onwards, till the 80s during which one finds a lot of slogans and sloganeers. Leaders came and went with all kinds of catchy two-line or four-line slogans. But this kind of sloganeering tactic of the Chinese government and party is now almost nil if we see recent developments from 2005 or 2006 onward and more recently for the last one to two years which we are watching almost everyday on the net. The recent leadership talks about the practical task of economic development and things like how to cope with the floods. But there is no political catchy slogan like we saw in earlier years. So this is also a big change in opportunities for the Chinese leadership. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have talked about both of those slogans. So this also a change and there must be some reason why they have stopped and changed. They must have found out something. So I would like to know more about it from Mr Rangachari. Thank you very much.

 

 

10: What are the possibilities of disintegration of China as happened to the Soviet Union?

 

 

11. Madhuri S. Sondhi: I would like to ask the panel a question that is indirectly related to what we have been considering here. We have talked about the interest of the state versus the interest of the individual in China, how the state tends to have more priority than the party. But some months back I heard a very interesting talk by a professor from Shanghai who had come to the ORF, and what he was saying I have read again in other literature, that there is in China now a vast network of think tanks which are exercised about defining exactly what or in which direction China is going, which Chinese characteristics are useful to keep for their political system. It seems they also have ambitions for shaping the international system. They do not like the current profile of the UN as they believe it to be grounded in western values and western influence. So they are thinking of something well, more Chinese. I don’t think that when they talk of Asian values they would include those of India and other Asian countries. They are not in favour of individual rights in the same way as we are, and regard it as derivative from western beliefs. So they have these ambitions and are trying to sell the model of authoritarian democracy that has been mentioned to other Asian or African countries which don’t like or feel threatened by democracy. Is there anybody who would like to comment on this?

 

 

12.  Lama Acharya: I have one question to Dr Swaran Singh. 

The re-elected president Hu Jintao when he was in the United States mentioned that he was providing a simple example of how a developing country can achieve modernisation without democracy. Those are words uttered by the president. Since you have been in China and stayed a long time in Beijing, can you clarify as to whether this is really what he wanted to say?

Secondly you have been there for a long time a professor or general intellectual. There is a lot of unemployment and drug addiction that is always reported in the media and numbers of the books are coming out on losing China. These are real questions, and how does the government solve the problems? Natural calamities can occur anywhere as in Burma or similarly here in India, and now in China the biggest problem is the earthquake. Only government agencies are dealing with it, and they are in difficulties. Why are people not coming up voluntarily to help? Are there non-governmental organisations under the Chinese constitution?

 

13: Lobsang Tenpa, JNU student: I want to address this question to Dr Swaran Singh. You have said that there is free Internet service in China. I want to know to which circumstances you are referring: is it with regard to  your own experiences in Beijing or your presence in JNU where we have free access to Internet sources on China as well as on Tibet? According to my personal experience, I have friends in Tibet as well as mainland China, and in some cases I am not able to contact them through social network services like Youtube, Hi5 and Facebook. I get emails from some of them saying that they don’t have net sources, particularly Internet sources. Of course there is no need to mention that the exiled government of Tibet websites are not accessible to them.

In the case of the Tiananmen Square massacre incident, today is the 19th anniversary of the incident. Here the China expert mentioned that 60% of Chinese do not know about this incident of Tiananmen Square.  In this case you have mentioned a particular place and said ‘maybe’. So what does this ‘maybe’ refer to?

 

Answers

 

Mr. TCA  Rangachari

First of all on this question of the impact of Taiwan on China, I put it in very simple terms – were China to become a big Taiwan instead of trying to make Taiwan a small China the problem will be solved. Whether that is going to happen is a different matter. But certainly if there is democracy then that possibly could happen. As to whether there is any actual impact of the functioning of democracy in Taiwan on China, I doubt that there is any significant impact.

 

The question of the credibility of the Chinese leadership on the ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom’ campaign had two aspects. The same Mao Zedong who persecuted the intellectuals also got the people to break up the party establishment and other developments took place in succession. Secondly, there can be lack of credibility even in established democracies: we have an example of George Bush and his fading popularity. I am sure here in India there are a lot of people who have different things to say about our own government, not only about the credibility of the present government but also about those in the past. Credibility has to be won from the people and any government can have a problem if it doesn’t tell it as it is and if it doesn’t do what it says it is going to do. One thing that Sarkozy kept saying throughout his campaign and subsequently when he became president was that I have implemented everything that I promised. There was a website which opened after he became president to monitor his deeds. It shut down after four months saying that this man has implemented what he put forward as reforms and has implemented every single point that he mentioned in the campaign and no monitor is any longer required. That doesn’t mean that his popularity was going up. Sarkozy’s popularity is also low and it looks as though he is competing with Bush in regard to who is going lower. So credibility is something that you have to win from the people.

 

 

With regard to the indifference of the middle class to democracy, two  points. I think the first is that you might find something very similar in India.  You know the middle class here is also quite happy getting its material goods, good jobs, good income and that sort of thing. Therefore it is not very bothered about the rest of the country and a lot of gated communities have been created in which we are not really involved with what is happening outside of our home environment and work environment.

Secondly, look at it from another point of view. According to official Chinese figures there are something like 70 million party members today. That is almost 7% of the total population and if you have free and fair voting as you assume occurs in states like India or in United States,  it would be around 60% or so  and the influence of party members on the actual result should be more significant. In 1973 when the Pakistan constitution was adopted by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto he was asked why they had a clause in the constitution saying that only a Muslim could become President and Prime Minister of Pakistan. In fact the oath was such that not just a Muslim but only a Shia Muslim or Sunni Muslim could take it. Bhutto’s response was in some way reflective of the point that I am trying to make that in any case the population of Pakistan is 99% Muslim, so the minorities would not get a chance to get elected. Thus there are both things about party membership being that strong, and also indifference.

The third point is that today there is something like three hundred thousand nongovernmental organisations in China and a lot of their support comes from the middle class. These organisations have taken up the cases like rural urban migration, health issues, labour issues, environmental issues and so on. I think these are in a sense what you could call self-contradictory and in a sense parallel. But these are all co-existing at the same time and all of them will have some impact on the other. In that sense China is not different from other countries as for example India.

 

My personal feeling as to whether China will become fascist is that it is not that easy to impose a system and that level of control on a large country. Germany and Italy as you said are much smaller. That might be one reason.   Secondly, this word is used very loosely in political discourse and any policy that you don’t like you immediately label that party as fascist, so there is labelling but in the terms of actual practice I doubt very much it exists. We have seen religious freedoms increasing. You see a lot people going to temples and mosques. But whether it is total religious freedom is not clear yet.

 

On the question of slogans I found something very interesting in multiple compilations of conversations between Mao Zedong and Nixon and Kissinger and so on. In one of them Nixon is telling Chairman Mao about the imperialists. He used to address him in a very flattering way: he would say ‘The Chairman says’ – it was a kind of genuflection to him. Then Mao responded, Yes, I used to write a lot of slogans like that. We used to try to persuade people to believe it. Then he started laughing. One of the slogans at that time used to be that the country wants independence, people want liberation and then people want revolution. There are of course a lot of other slogans. The slogans are not true but they are used as a technique for mass mobilisation. Now the requirements of mass mobilisation have changed and these slogans are not so necessary. Today the techniques of mobilisation are to put up factories, to have people working there, educate them and so on. We should look at the slogans not so much in themselves but as techniques for mobilisation. Mobilisation is still going on.

 

Disintegration, I doubt it very much. In fact if you look at the post world-war situation, Yugoslavia is the only example of disintegration without outside intervention. Even in the case of Yugoslavia, recognition of Croatia by Germany could have been a deciding factor. Then NATO got involved in the whole exercise. But post Second World War there has been no country which has been broken up.

The Soviet Union disintegrated from the top and was not broken up. It decided to dissolve itself not because of a revolution but just from a decision taken by Yeltsin: now Russia will be Russia and rest of the Soviet Union can break up and be whatever. So it is not a classic example of a country breaking up. It has disintegrated and in a sense was disintegrated. Tomorrow if the leadership of China decides to dissolve itself into 25 different countries that will be a different matter.

 

The question asked by Ms Sondhi concerns the appeal to Asia and Africa. I am not sure whether countries of Asia and Africa any longer follow China but Zimbabwe could be an exception. But mostly I don’t think today countries in Asia and Africa are really taken up by this kind of rhetoric. You have very genuine leadership anxiety about a large labour force – in Venezuela for example. Therefore they take some kind of reactionary positions. But today there are more and more, even in the developing world, Algeria could be an example, where countries go into democracy by their own volition because they see this as one way in which they can co-opt people into the process of governance, ensure stability and avoid alienation and extremism and so on. In that sense the Algeria could be a very good example, because during the FLN era although there was so much control by a single party without involvement by the people, in a sense there were other factors including what happened to the Islamic Brotherhood from Egypt etc. This is one of the reasons for alienation and why people moved away from the FLN in Algeria. It has taken them maybe fifteen years but now gradually Algerians are again getting back on their feet. Once again the FLN in one incarnation or another is coming to win the elections. Thank you.

 

Youdon Aukatsang

 

On China’s middle class today, you just mentioned that around 60% of them did not even know about the Tiananmen Massacre. This is because of the flow of information that we are talking about. The flow of information in China has been very tight and only recently people have started using information technology. Before there was no access to information and that could be one of the reasons so little is known about Tiananmen. It is to a large extent true that the middle class everywhere which forms the body or base for the country has been carried away by materialism and by economic freedoms of the economy, and such is the case for China as well. We also should not forget that if there is limited information flow, people cannot access the information required, and that is still the case. Many people in China still do not know about Tibet. Even now if you ask people about Tibet although there has recently been so much coverage in the media people in China cannot freely access it even today. I am sure we all know and understand that.

 

Another question that I want to tackle is about the freedom of religion. In my presentation I forgot to mention one important point about religion, particularly in Tibet. Mr. Rangachari mentioned that there is freedom of religion today and people can freely go to temples and pray. But these are not sufficient signs to point to freedom of religion in Tibet. Tibetans can go to temples and prostrate, but if we closely watch the depth of freedom of religion, we see that Tibetans cannot study their own religion properly and cannot become monks if they want to. At every level there is control. As recently as last year China passed a regulation on religion concerning control of reincarnations of whom they call the ‘living Buddha’. A country that does not know much about religion wants to control who will be the next reincarnation. They have regulations on all religious affairs. So in what sense is there religious freedom when people cannot study their religion and cannot choose to become monks and nuns if they want to? They put a ceiling on the number of monks and nuns in monasteries. They decide who can stay in the monastery: if they think some thing is going wrong they just throw people out of the monasteries also.  Especially in the Tibet Autonomous Region China has introduced many new campaigns to make sure that these monks and nuns are fed with the right information. They are given patriotic re-education. You all must have heard about it. That has been revitalised because of the recent unrest in Tibet.  It is going on at every moment at every level, not just in monasteries but also among the government officials and the civilian population to make sure that they do not support but denounce the ‘splittists’ of which the main one is the Dalai Lama and the Dalai clique, and instead support Chinese development in Tibet. They are promoting their own agenda. Also the Strike Hard campaign has been going on for a long time. All these campaigns are basically excuses for policies to do away with people whom they do not like. They do not want anybody to challenge their authority. It is basically under the name of state security they can eliminate and arrest and put in prison people in the so-called minority countries. Similar cases have occurred and still continue in the mainland.

 

On the question of dialogue: as one of the distinguished speakers here talked about that, I did not touch on dialogue between the Tibetan and Chinese delegations. I would not say that the recent dialogue is a ‘development’. What really happened was that the meeting was for just a day, it took place in Shenzen, a special economic zone in China, very close to Hong Kong. The main topic was the recent crackdown by the Chinese government and how there should be more scrutiny and more press inside Tibet. That was the main topic for that one-day discussion which lasted for a few hours. I don’t think it was a real breakthrough because this has been going on since 2002. I can say that after 2002 there has been a resumption of dialogue between the Tibetan and Chinese delegations. There was a break down in between, so in the light of that this could be described as a change.

 

With regard to the giant Carrefour in the supermarket, there was a huge demonstration against it, and in a way it was orchestrated by the Chinese. If you have read in papers you can also see what Chinese outside China have done. I heard many stories, maybe some true and some not, that the Chinese Embassy was handing out money. There have been real eyewitness accounts of people saying that they were given money and how much they were paid. In the train in the mainland there were Tibetans and Chinese going together and they asked each other, how much did you get paid to come to the protest?  Some got something like one hundred dollars, two hundred and three hundred dollars. They were getting paid to come and protest against those who were protesting. The Chinese bribed them. That has happened inside China and is definitely true. There might be some people who have gone out of nationalistic feelings also, but by and large people were told to come and they were paid for it or they were incited to come and protest against the French giant Carrefour.

 

Professor Rangachari has talked about the unlikelihood of disintegration and I also don’t see any possibility of China’s disintegration.

 

There is one question I want to pose to the Chinese experts since I am not a Chinese expert and am forever just a student. I also put the question in my  notes for presentation but somehow I did not mention it – and that is the interesting thought that we have to know the whole use of technology. Those using blogs, Youtube, websites and SMS are usually middle class people in  urban areas who mobilise and protest. I noticed we have a very popular Tibetan woman called Tsering Weoser. She has her own website called www.woeser.middl.path.cn and writes in it everyday. She is writing about what is happening inside Tibet. She is writing her own views. It is really up to date in every way. She is also married to a Chinese man called Wang Lixiong who is a Chinese scholar and very well known.  I used to read her blog site everyday. I could understand that she is freely expressing everything. She is not being arrested but at times her blog has shut down. From my viewpoint I could see there are two ways of looking at it. One is that she has become so popular because she has been given an award by the Norwegian government and the International Pen Award, so maybe that is why Chinese authorities cannot reach her, or alternately maybe China wants to portray openness and allows some token writers to appear in public. So I just want to pose this question to the China experts, what do you think could be the Chinese attitude or Chinese mind behind that?

Thank you.

  

Dr. Swaran Singh

 

This has been a very lively debate. I shall quickly try to sum up my response. I have noted a long list of comments and questions and several ideas come to mind. For example a brief quip from one of my friends that the Chinese are learning from Indian democracy by paying protesters for attending their political rallies makes an interesting reading of China's transformation.  Yes, they are learning democracy very quickly from us.

 

The question that one of you mentioned about Taiwan is very interesting.  It's a major example of a certain kind of democracy being put in place there. There are two limitations: one, that China sees it as a renegade state and an errant child, not a model child to emulate. The second, that it sees it as a US prop, so it is not going to be easily accepted or hoisted as a celebration in the Chinese mainland. Conversely, the mainland has such a grip on Taiwan. In fact Taipei's population is growing negatively now. People are moving to Shanghai. The Chinese influence on Taiwan is really huge as compared to Taiwanese influence at the societal level. Taiwan, therefore, is not a model which will greatly influence anything in China's progression towards democracy. Taiwan needs more children to sustain its population; they face a shrinking population because more people are moving out to mainland China. I think that is a critical limitation of Taiwan becoming an example for China. India by comparison would be a stronger democracy model; and it is indeed already influencing China.

There was this mention about the Communist Party of China being in control and not allowing change.  The only reason for this that I can immediately think of as to why the Communist Party of China will change, is because they need democracy for popular endorsement of their political regime. In all fields of life, a brand image is something very fashionable now. What kind of fit the Chinese political clothes would have is maybe going to be different but is it ultimately going to be an Italian suit or Indian? At first look democracy is very fashionable and that is the reason why it will be adopted by China.

About the middle classes. The middle class is normally seen as a zone where thinking and ideas get evolved and questioned and established historically. Comparisons are not often made with the Chinese middle class because the regime has been able to produce so much progress which remains astonishing for China's middle class in several ways. Prosperity is the first thing that the middle class looks at. Only later they look at whether there is a need for certain other things to change in their social or political domain. The fact is that the middle class has been allowed special privileges in China. If you are from the middle class then you have access, for example, to the BBC for which you can take special permission. So the middle classes have been very carefully gradually co-opted by the regime and have a certain amount of freedom to access Internet and other issues of privilege. This whole access to dancing floors and music etc is diverting attention from 'political' issues. This is how they have almost become stake holders in the nation's economic progress. The moment progress slows down is the moment to watch what the middle class will do.  By that time it would have become very influential and will have a major role to play.

 

Someone mentioned fascism and I have already given a brief answer that China is too big for fascism to take hold.  Fascism was a far simpler and crude ideology that emerged in the interwar period against the backdrop of Germany’s terrible plight  after the First Would War. Today this ideology in the shape of rightists movements remains only on the "fringes" and cannot survive in a large and highly visible country like China’s where the ruling or power elite will have to evolve a far more nuanced and complex kind of a regime, even when it remains authoritarian.

 

I want to add only two other things concerning international norms and opinion: these are really far more effective today and far more immediately visible. The CNN even tells you about the bombing and killing that goes on in Iraq. It is not easy to shift direction without being noticed. Even domestic people have tremendous access and links with outsiders. Fascism like that of the last century is difficult to replicate and go unnoticed.

Again, one of you mentioned about the Hsuan Tsang and his monastery. In fact, what the Chinese have done among others things is a good organisation of all museums and monasteries.  At least a few of them have been turned into really bright and plush places to show to foreign tourists.  Very few nations can beat the Chinese in organisation. So it is very difficult to gauge whether the change is really taking effect today. One needs to read between the lines.  If you pass by in front of monasteries, you can hear and listen to their chanting: it is loud enough for people outside the monastery to hear. Again, they are extremely wary of any of these things causing trouble. On the question of political authority though, they do not yet want to compromise, not yet. The question about demonstrations by the youth league, we only have to link this with French President Sarkozy’s four conditions for him to agree to be a guest at China's Olympics. Next day, within twenty-four hours, six French tourists were shown on television in hoods. China's reaction sometimes is too harsh, in contrast to the steps India’s democracy can take, because in India everyone even physically moves slowly.  

 

The disintegration of China, I also doubt but in a regime like China's you sometimes don't see things coming. But, one percent, I believe that maybe the visibility is so well organised that one is not able to see the undercurrents. I will give an example of my visit to Tibet and how much influence the Dalai Lama holds on local people which is why the Chinese appear so scared of one individual who is a monk. So there are times when you don't see the real picture. That one percent remains a possibility. But what is visible doesn't give any sense of China's possible disintegration.

 

Yes, one of you posed a very difficult question about Chinese characteristics being developed into a model of democracy at both the regional, local, and national levels and propagated as an example for others. Particularly during the fifties and sixties there was much propagation of both Chinese and Indian models; even now, some times. Especially in the field of international relations they are trying to propose new ways of doing things. One big difference I notice is the fact that western countries often enter into military alliances to deal with international relations, whereas the Chinese try to utilize economic dependency to push it across. The five steps that I often mention as China's way of engaging another nation are simply trade, investment in infrastructure, investments in military and auxiliary agencies and then finally sending political advisers. These five steps of the Chinese are their way of controlling and dealing with international relations and promoting their own characteristics as models. Once you are a political adviser you can manage things in your favour.

Hu Jintao talked of unemployment and drugs which are rampant in Yunnan and some sectors at least in the Sichuan area. If you ask the Chinese about it, they will say that it is major problem for them. Unemployment is the main reason why eighty four thousand people protested in China last year. These are mostly laid-off workers who are free-floating and looking for trouble while the regime is planning to build more power plants or chemical industrial power plants. That is often the reason why protests happen and sometimes even shooting. So this unrest is visible and unemployment is visible in terms of unrest. That partly also relates to earlier state full-employment policies of yesteryears. It is also a mode of transition and free societies mostly have unemployment. In China's case the problem is new, and they have to learn to deal with it.

Regarding the earthquake in Sichuan this summer (2008) and foreign help, the Japanese team was already there in no time. Whether other NGOs were allowed or are not allowed I am not too sure. But one could again see a lack of similarity in the case of the tsunami where India refused foreign help. So each nation takes its own decision on how to deal with crises and challenges. We in India already decided we are big and smart guys.  We not only helped ourselves but sent immediate aid to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. So it depends on how a nation chooses to respond to a particular crisis. The Chinese responded to earthquake in Sichuan by being more open. One reason is that twelve days before the earthquake they passed a law which got them into a fix. They decided to allow foreign media because of the approaching Olympics. They did not know the earthquake was coming. There are unexpected reasons sometimes why a country behaves the way it does.

 

The question that Lobsang asked is about access to the Internet. Even in India all your Blackberry messages are accessible to the government and so is your Internet.   If you are a troublemaker of course your file is growing in certain agencies. It is again nothing new. It is there in all normal democracies. What is peculiar is the kind of capacity that the Chinese state has to move-in and 'evaporate' a particular organization or an individual. Such a capacity does exist in many democracies, but the Chinese have it and use it. There are networks and blogs and one blog that is very popular in India these days is that of Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan. Blogs and Networks are noticeable and sometimes create friction. But again even if you go to Tibet at least in the major towns you can go to cyber cafés and use them. The Internet is possibly as accessible as it in India. Even in India, in several places, the moment you use internet in a cyber café, an automatic camera on the computer clicks your picture and then, in some cases, you also have to fill in few lines to say who you are. Then you can use that cyber café internet. It is fine because we are worried about our security, especially from non-state actors. So the Chinese are also worry about Tibet's security according to their perception of threats. So there are certain limitations and but it is not that the Internet is inaccessible in Tibet or other parts of China.

 

Technology, in fact holds an inherent promise of liberation. There is a tendency to use the jackboot option, indeed at times repeatedly, when somebody notices that problems are going out of hand. The capacity to demolish everything very quickly is absolutely different in the case of China from what we have in India. We can't even construct a road merely because fifty stay orders immediately will be slapped using judicial activism. That singularity and capacity of the Chinese regime is what distinguishes their authoritarianism. But I don't see that character of Chinese regime sustaining itself because in some ways humans cannot stop thinking. Because we can't stop thinking we can't stop improvising. When we improvise we unfold the march of technology. When we unfold the march of technology, we need to ensure social norms and social relations.  The status quo can be sustained if we artificially block this progression. The telephone call from me to you, for example, moves through a satellite and I pay one rupee. If I call Washington DC by the same phone I pay lets say twenty-five rupees, but it is controlled by the same satellite. So everywhere there is social-control of technology but it is artificial and cannot be sustained. The Chinese are trying to politically and socially control this unfolding of technology (forces of production) but how for long can they continue? Change (in relations of production) is going to happen and they can only delay it too far. That is my conclusion.

 

Chairman

It has been a very stimulating and informative discussion. I want to thank to every one for participating in it. I don’t want to take any more time but

I just want to make one small point on the question of the middle class effecting changes and ultimately introducing democracy in China. The middle class plays a certain role everywhere but that role is not necessarily to bring about change on its own. It taps into discontent prevalent in society at all levels. Particularly as I mentioned we are for various reasons facing discontent in this country. Every country faces it. The foot soldiers are provided by a section which is dissatisfied but cannot provide leadership. Somebody provides the leadership from the middle class. This combined with the reach of modern technology makes for a new mix, which was not there earlier.

 

Manish Dabhade

 

On behalf of the M.L. Sondhi Institute, I wish to thank first and foremost the Chairman Mr. K.C. Pant for taking time out from his busy schedule and agreeing to grace this occasion. I also thank Ms Madhuri Santanam Sondhi, Director of the Institute  and ambassador Rangachari, Dr Swaran Singh and Ms Youdon Aukatsang for their first-rate presentations and finally thank you all to the distinguished audience for being here.