Defending Hong Kong democracy in ‘global war of ideology’

MARTIN LEETwo of the most stalwart fighters for democracy in the global war of ideology were in Washington last week, hoping for moral support, The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt reports:

They made for an odd couple, though each has spent more than 40 years in the struggle: one is a consummate insider and the other has always battled from the outside.

The latter, lawyer Martin Lee (left) fought the British for more autonomy when they ruled Hong Kong. Since the British left in 1997, he has pressed Beijing to keep its word to allow Hong Kong to preserve its separate system of governance within China — the formula known as “one country, two systems.” …Anson Chan (right), by contrast, rose AnsonchanHKthrough the prestigious Hong Kong civil service to the top appointed position of chief secretary, resigning in 2001 when she felt the chief executive was allowing Beijing to chip away at Hong Kong’s core values: rule of law, a level playing field and freedom of press, speech and association.

With the 2017 and 2020 elections on the horizon, Chinese leaders are making increasingly clear they intend to install politicians they can control, an ominous sign for Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms—not to mention the economy, which relies on transparency and the rule of law, the two veteran leaders told a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy

U.S. President Barack Obama recently told an audience in Brussels that, though the future belongs to those who support freedom and democracy, “those rules are not self-executing” and “the contest of ideas continues for your generation,” Hiatt observes, yet he also insisted that there is no new Cold War. “After all,” he said, “unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.”

It’s true that “anti-freedom” doesn’t sound like an ideology to most Americans…But the dictators of Russia and China today are making a bid for legitimacy as well as survival, he writes:

They present themselves as guarantors of stability, warding off the confusion and insecurity that follow democratic uprisings. They boast of investing in the future — in highways and fast trains — in ways that pandering elected officials in India or the United States cannot manage. They put their systems forward as an antidote to the empty materialism of capitalist democracies — the pornography, the hedonism, the lack of respect for elders and religious leaders. They claim to stand for community, spirituality and tradition.

…But whether the leaders believe in their stew of xenophobia, phony egalitarianism and traditional (Russian Orthodox or Confucian) values hardly matters. They are fighting a new Cold War against democracy, and the other side is only intermittently on the field.


Isle of Light: A Look Back at Vietnam’s Boat People

vietnam vo van aiWe were sitting in a cafe on the Left Bank in Paris in November 1978 when the news broke that two thousand five hundred and sixty-four Vietnamese were stranded off the coast of Malaysia on a rusty cargo ship, the Hai Hong, writes Vo Van Ai, the founder and chair of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Que Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam:

They had fled Vietnam in a desperate attempt to seek freedom and asylum overseas. After sixteen days on the South China seas, buffeted by storms, crushed by the heat, with no more food or water, they had arrived on the shores of Indonesia, then Malaysia, only to be pushed back by the coast guards. They had nowhere to land, and the ship could go no further. Stranded and helpless, starving and totally dehydrated, they were dying before our eyes as they unfurled a makeshift banner in English across the side of the ship: “UN please save us.”

They were not the first to undertake a desperate journey by sea to escape from Vietnam. Since 1975, when the South was “liberated” by Hanoi at the end of the Vietnam War, more than one million people had risked their lives in ramshackle crafts to escape repression. More than half of them had died—drowned, eaten by sharks, or murdered by pirates in the Gulf of Thailand, he writes for World Affairs:

But those who allowed themselves to be swayed by this illusion, who believed that there would be room for them in a country reunified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under Hanoi’s rule, could not have been more mistaken. The communist authorities immediately divided the South Vietnamese into three categories: reactionary military personnel, reactionary administrative personnel, and reactionary citizens. In brief, the whole population was “reactionary.” In the months following the occupation, a vast network of “reeducation camps”—in reality forced labor camps, similar to the Chinese laogai—were set up throughout the South. Beginning with officers and soldiers from the former South Vietnamese Army, soon followed by writers, artists, academics, journalists, trade unionists, teachers, students, and farmers, people from all walks of life were summoned for “reeducation.” They were told to bring enough clothes and food for two weeks. Many would never return. Others would spend up to twenty years in these camps, released only when their health was broken and they were ready to die.

Although no definitive statistics have ever been published, Hanoi has admitted that more than two and a half million people were detained in reeducation camps between 1975 and 1985. Some one hundred thousand were summarily executed, and hundreds of thousands perished from hunger, exhaustion, and illness in these Vietnamese gulags. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of civilians were forcibly relocated to New Economic Zones where they served as human buffers along the Sino-Vietnamese or Cambodian border. Those who refused to go were arrested for breaching national security.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Que Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.


China after Tiananmen: money, yes; ideas, no

tiananmenexilesThe New York Review of Books reprints a chapter by Perry Link in Rowena He’s Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China, in which he discusses the legacy of the June 4th, 1989 military crackdown on protesters in Beijing, 25 years later, China Digital Times reports:

The Tiananmen massacre, as if having a will of its own, seems to come back to undermine whatever the regime claims as its legitimacy. In 1989 it killed the “socialist idealism” claim once and for all; then, when Deng shifted to nationalism, stressing that the Party and people are one, it was impossible not to recall when the Party and the people were on opposite ends of machine guns. So the regime still needs to list massacre-memory as one of the kinds of thought that most needs to be erased. It uses both push and pull to do this. “Push” includes warnings and threats, and—for the recalcitrant—computer and cell-phone confiscation, passport denial, employment loss, bank-account seizure, and the like, and—for the truly stubborn—house arrest or prison. “Pull” includes “invitations to tea” at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres; advice that it is still not too late to make this kind of adjustment; comparisons with others who are materially better off for having made just that decision; offers of food, travel, employment, and other emoluments (larger if one cooperates by reporting on others); and counsel that it is best not to reveal the content of all this friendly tea-talk to anyone else.

The “pull” tactics have been especially effective in the culture of the money-making and materialism that has pervaded Chinese society in recent times. The emphasis on money, in combination with authoritarian limits on open discussion of other principles, has led to a poverty in the society’s public values. Vaclav Havel wrote about the “post-totalitarian” condition as one in which a pervasive web of official lies comes to constitute a sort of second version of daily life. Echoing Havel, the Tiananmen student leader Shen Tong observes that “the reality of living in a police state” is that “you live in a huge public lie.” The scholar and fellow Tiananmen leader Wang Dan, in explaining the behavior of people who, from no real fault of their own, become inured to lies over time, finds that they “lie subconsciously.” China’s celebration of money-making does make it different from Havel’s Czechoslovakia, but hardly better. Far from melting the artificiality (as the theories of optimistic Western politicians have held that it would), the money craze in some ways has worsened it.



Vargas Llosa ‘solidarity’ trip to Venezuela. Is there a way out of crisis?

Opposition supporters take part in a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas

The Peruvian Nobel Prize winning author, Mario Vargas Llosa, has said that he will travel to Venezuela to lend his support to opposition groups and he accused President Nicolas Maduro of trying to install a “Cuban-inspired dictatorship,” the BBC reports.

He said that all Latin American countries would be under threat if Mr Maduro succeeded.

“I will go with other liberals to lend our support and show our solidarity to those who are putting up a big fight against the dictatorship of Maduro,” he said. Vargas Llosa has previously said he wanted his 1969 novel Conversation in the Cathedral to show “how a dictatorial and authoritarian government corrupts all the society.”.

Grappling with scarcities of sugar, milk, cornmeal and other basic foods, the Venezuelan government Tuesday unveiled a new electronic identification system for shoppers that critics say is a modern version of a ration card. President Nicolas Maduro described it as a means of “safeguarding food sovereignty.” – The Los Angeles Times reports (HT: FPI).

In a New York Times editorial Tuesday, Maduro reiterated calls for dialogue with opposition activists, and for exchanging ambassadors with the United States.

“Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward. We welcome anyone who sincerely wants to help us reach these goals,” Maduro wrote.

But Venezuelan police blocked an opposition lawmaker from returning to the legislature to retake her seat and fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of her supporters, AFP reports.

In a direct challenge to Maduro, Maria Corina Machado had vowed to attend the National Assembly, despite her removal from office being confirmed Monday by the Supreme Court.“Lawmakers are elected by the people,” she said. “The decision [to oust her from congress] cannot be made by another lawmaker. What do you call a regime where this can happen?”

She said that a Supreme Court decision issued late Monday night that backed the government’s move to remove her from the National Assembly was unconstitutional. “There is no due process here,” she said.

Is there a way out of this crisis? asks Leopoldo Martínez, a former Venezuelan congressman currently living in Washington, DC, where he is the CEO of the Center for Democracy and Development in the Americas (CDDA):

Venezuelans need an authentic national dialogue with the government and the opposition participating as equals – a far cry from Maduro’s offer of talks while the National Guard and the paramilitary colectivos remain on the streets. For that to happen, the support of international organizations like the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) is essential, especially as the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Elias Jaua, has been trying to persuade these bodies that there is no social unrest in the country.

The Maduro government doesn’t want the truth to come out. In their heart of hearts, they know that the Chavista experiment is over – and with it, the myths that have sustained this regime for 15 years.



Will China Democratize?

Chinawill it democratizeA  year ago the International Forum for Democratic Studies convened a panel entitled “China at the Tipping Point?” based on the series of articles that appeared under that title in the January 2013 Journal of Democracy. It is also approximately a year since the turnover of power within the Chinese Communist Party that brought President Xi Jinping to the country’s top leadership position. Many observers expected that Xi would prove to be a reformer, but so far there is little evidence that this has been the case, at least with respect to political reform.  

This panel will evaluate developments over the past year and examine in what ways China may be moving closer to or farther from a “tipping point.” All of the panelists are contributors to Will China Democratize?, a Journal of Democracy book edited by Andrew J. Nathan, Larry Diamond, and Marc F. Plattner that was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in the fall of 2013. The event also will celebrate the book’s publication, and copies will be available for purchase (cash or check only).

Will China Democratize?

A Journal of Democracy  book edited by

Andrew J. Nathan, Larry Diamond, and Marc F. Plattner

published by Johns Hopkins University Press


Louisa Greve, Andrew J. Nathan, Minxin Pei, and Marc F. Plattner 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

4:00-5:30 p.m.

    1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004

Telephone: 202-378-9675  

RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation

by Tuesday, April 8 at 

Louisa Greve is vice president for Asia, Middle East & North Africa, and Global Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy, where she previously served as director for East Asia, senior program officer, and program officer. She has studied, worked, and travelled in Asia since 1980 and has testified before Congressional committees on human rights in China and democracy promotion in Asia.  

Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. His teaching and research interests include Chinese politics and foreign policy, the comparative study of political participation and political culture, and human rights. Prof. Nathan’s most recent other book is China’s Search for Security, co-authored with Andrew Scobell. 

Minxin Pei is the Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 Professor of Government and the director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College. His research focuses on democratization in developing countries, economic reform and governance in China, and U.S.-China relations. His books include China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy 

Marc F. Plattner (moderator)is coeditor of the Journal of Democracy, vice-president for research and studies at the National Endowment for Democracy, and co-chair of the research council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies. His latest book is Democracy without Borders? Global Challenges to Liberal Democracy.