Why democratic India will outpace autocratic China

China’s churlish reaction to Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi this week suggests that the US president and Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, are on to something important in their attempt to remake the geostrategic map of the world, writes FT analyst Victor Mallet:

Mr Obama and Mr Modi…tacitly contrasted Chinese authoritarianism with their own declared respect for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.               

Mr Modi is not saddled with the historical baggage of anti-capitalism and suspicion of the west that made the Congress party lean towards the Soviet Union while publicly adopting “non-alignment” during the cold war. Instead, he finds himself propelled into a friendship with Mr Obama by 3m Indian-Americans, many of them prosperous entrepreneurs hailing from his native Gujarat.

india china“Modi comes in and finds that there is much greater strategic convergence with the US vis-à-vis China,” says Mr Vaishnav. “He doesn’t have this historical ideological baggage” and is not embarrassed about openly befriending the US. “That,” Mr Vaishnav says, “has to be counted as a significant break from the past.” 

Autocratic China has plenty of capitalist superfans in the West, but the latest forecast suggests that the tide may be turning in India’s favor, possibly for good. The World Bank anticipates (PDF) that, by 2017, India will be growing faster than China, writes analyst Allison Schrager:

Once that happens, growth will depend on demographics and each country’s ability to innovate. India has a better outlook on both fronts. Its population is growing; China’s is shrinking. It’s harder to predict which country will be better at innovation. Signs point to India because democracies, with their secure property rights and general stability, tend to be better at fostering successful entrepreneurship. China’s authoritarian capitalism is a new model, and it’s not clear whether it can produce the sort of environment in which people take chances, form businesses, and invent things. 

India also has some long-term advantages over China, the FT adds:

First, its demographics are considerably better, with a relatively much larger cohort of young people entering the workforce. Second, while China requires great political upheaval to become a prosperous liberal democracy, India has only to improve the imperfect democracy it already has. Third, China is beginning to exhaust the rapid manufacturing phase of expansion, and may find growth harder to come by in the future.

Rule of law – with Chinese characteristics

china rule of lawChinese authorities have detained former State Security Minister Zhou Yongkang on corruption charges and seized $14.5 billion in assets from the minister’s family and members of his inner circle, VOA reports.

“The Ministry of State Security, China’s internal intelligence agency, has been the recipient of huge amounts of money and political support,” said analyst Kerry Brown of the London-based Chatham House think tank. “The MSS, under the control of Zhou Yongkang, became a law unto itself. The MSS has had very little accountability.”

“As with other institutions affected by the anti-corruption purge,” Brown said, “the [leadership’s] strategy has been to take one or two individuals and to make an example of them. In this case, it has been Ma Jian…This is a sign that for the current anti-corruption campaign, no organization or entity is off bounds. The same goes for the military.”

The regime’s approach to rule of law illustrates that China’s elite wants democracy without the demos, says Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang talks to media in BeijingThe Chinese judicial system’s failure to release three high-profile key activists detained in recent months – public intellectual Guo Yushan, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (right), and legal activist Guo Feixiong – reflects progressively harsher suppression of civil society, says Human Rights Watch:

There is no publicly available credible evidence of illegal behavior in any of their cases, yet all three are likely to advance in the coming weeks as judicial personnel handle these cases with instructions from Communist Party authorities. Over the past decade, the three have been at the forefront of China’s human rights movement, pushing officials for greater adherence to the law and devising new methods to advance their cause:

Guo Yushan, 38, founded two influential organizations in Beijing: the legal aid NGO Gongmeng in 2004, and a public policy think tank, the Transition Institute, in 2007. ….;

Pu Zhiqiang, 50, forged a unique path as a lawyer defending many sensitive and prominent free speech cases, including that of Ai Weiwei…. and

Guo Feixiong, 48, is best known for his work in 2005 aiding villagers in Taishi, Guangdong province, as they sought to remove the allegedly corrupt village leader from office. …..

“Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the crackdown on dissent has netted some of China’s most respected critics known for their innovative activism developing the rule of law,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Prosecuting and imprisoning these well-established public figures indicates near-zero tolerance for independent activism.”

China analyst Nigel Inkster of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said Xi’s corruption purge may be on shaky legal footing.

“So far things seem to be going Xi’s way,” he told VOA. “But he has gambled a lot on the success of this campaign which, however, suffers from the fact that it is not being pursued within a framework of rule of law…This may well be the hurdle at which it falls.”        

“The question remains to be whether Xi is taking a page from Chairman Mao,” said longtime political analyst Willy Lam with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, noting the three fallen leaders were all considered to be Xi’s political opponents. “Starting with Mao, corruption has been used to take down enemies of the more powerful faction,” he told CNN.

The Financial Times’ David Pilling and Julie Zhu report on arguments in Hong Kong over the term “rule of law.” Mainland officials such as ambassador Cui Tiankai have pushed an interpretation of the phrase which emphasizes public obedience, notes China Digital Times:

….as former Central Party School researcher Wang Guixiu told the South China Morning Post last year, “the public say it is about putting officials in check, while officials say it is about how to govern the public.” Prominent figures in Hong Kong’s legal community have recently urged its government to acknowledge its own obligations under rule of law as well as the public’s..[Source]

Read more from Stuart Lau at South China Morning Post.

At China Media Project, meanwhile, Qian Gang writes that an apparent “death sentence” on the phrase “judicial independence” presents “a worrying signal for rule of law” in China.


Why has democracy lost its momentum?

2014 Freedom in the World map

Freedom House

Democracy is the 20th century’s most successful political idea. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption, The Econ0mist reports:

More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal. So why has democracy lost its forward momentum? 

Democracy has been on the back foot before. In the 1920s and 1930s communism and fascism looked like the coming things, the paper notes:

Things are not that bad these days, but China poses a far more credible threat than communism ever did to the idea that democracy is inherently superior and will eventually prevail……Even those lucky enough to live in mature democracies need to pay close attention to the architecture of their political systems. The combination of globalisation and the digital revolution has made some of democracy’s most cherished institutions look outdated. Established democracies need to update their own political systems both to address the problems they face at home, and to revitalise democracy’s image abroad.

“Democracy was the great victor of the ideological clashes of the 20th century,” it notes. “But if democracy is to remain as successful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th, it must be both assiduously nurtured when it is young—and carefully maintained when it is mature.”


China having negative impact on global democracy

jod.26.1China’s pursuit of economic and security interests beyond its borders has a negative impact on global democracy, according to Andrew Nathan, a leading China scholar, Businessweek reports:

Concern is increasing that China “will seek to remake the world in its authoritarian image,” Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University, wrote in an article published today in a special 25th anniversary edition of the Journal of Democracy….. Nathan has written and edited numerous books on China’s politics and foreign relations, including “China’s Transition” and “The Tiananmen Papers.” He is co-chair of the board of Human Rights in China and a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch.

Beijing’s pragmatic efforts to protect its regime and pursue its interests abroad have a negative impact on the fate of democracy in six ways, says Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

chinaChina encourages authoritarian regimes elsewhere by the power of example. In burnishing its national image abroad, Chinese propaganda promotes authoritarian values. China and other authoritarian states learn techniques of rule from one another. China works against democracy in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. China promotes the survival of authoritarian regimes that are key economic and strategic partners. And Beijing seeks to shape international human rights and other institutions to make them “regime-type-neutral” instead of prodemocratic.

Below are some selected extracts from Nathan’s paper:

  • “As the prestige of the Chinese model grows, even without Chinese efforts to propagate it, other authoritarian governments are encouraged by the idea that authoritarianism is compatible with modernization.”
  • “China’s example, its international propaganda, and its technical, financial, and diplomatic assistance will do even more to help authoritarian regimes to survive; its influence in international institutions will be more effective in slowing or even reversing the momentum of the last forty years toward more democracy-friendly and rights-friendly international norms.”
  • China’s cultivation of relationships with nations such as Iran, Venezuela, Sudan and Zimbabwe is helping regimes in those countries to survive.
  • China is “working to shape international institutions to make them ‘regime-type-neutral’ instead of weighted in favor of democracy.”
  • “The most important answer to China’s challenge is for the democracies to do a better job of managing themselves than they are doing today.”


China labor militancy shows ‘uncertain support for regime’

chinalaborbulletinChina’s government promised Thursday to overhaul the country’s taxi industry following strikes by drivers in at least seven major cities over complaints about low pay, high charges imposed by taxi companies and competition from ride-hailing apps, AP reports:

The Ministry of Transport said it will take unspecified steps to improve pricing and “rights protection” mechanisms and to integrate ride-hailing apps and other new technologies into the industry. Strikes have been reported this week in cities including Nanjing in the east, Chengdu in the west and Shenyang in the northeast.

In a sign of shifting official attitudes, the government’s China News Service on Thursday cited experts who said taxi companies hurt drivers by charging up to 9,000 yuan ($1,450) per month for use of a cab. The report appeared on websites of numerous Chinese news outlets.

Taxi drivers complain that some passengers are using the apps to hail rides from unlicensed, private drivers, The Wall Street Journal reports. “With earnings so low, drivers understandably get angry when their business is poached by unlicensed cabs that are not subject to the same burdensome regulations as they are,” said Geoff Crothall, a China Labour Bulletin spokesman.

On December 27, a court in the northeastern Jilin province convicted more than a dozen executives and officials for alleged lapses that contributed to a poultry plant fire that claimed 121 lives in June 2013, the FT reports:

The plant’s chairman and two senior firefighters received prison sentences ranging from five to nine years, after the court found that emergency exits had been locked.

“It was obvious soon after the accident that local officials had failed to ensure the factory complied with even the most rudimentary of safety measures,” said China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based worker rights group.

The strikes represent the latest manifestation of growing labor militancy. Domestic support for the regime is uncertain, says analyst John Foley:

The number of labour strikes logged in September by China Labour Bulletin was more than twice the previous twelve-month average. A gathering correction in the property market or an increase in financial instability threatens middle class confidence.

The political popularity quest will only get more fraught. In 2017, five of the seven members of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee will be of retirement age, and jockeying for who takes their place is doubtless under way. The easy way for Xi to win support is by wrapping himself in the flag. That might include widening graft investigations to foreign financial companies, who have previously escaped scrutiny. Bombastic pursuit of territorial claims in the South China Sea is also likely.