‘Rejuvenating, not Rising’ China casts shadow of 1914

The rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific between China, Japan and the US are ominously reminiscent of the run-up to the First World War, observers suggest.

Will China’s ruling Communist party follow the Kaiser’s example and respond to growing pressure to democratize by stoking aggressive nationalist sentiment?

“The analogy with Germany before the first world war is striking – as the adept leadership of Otto von Bismarck gave way to much clumsier political and military leadership in the years before war broke out,” notes the FT’s Gideon Rachman:

The German ruling elite felt similarly threatened by democratic pressures from below – and encouraged nationalism as an alternative outlet for popular sentiment. China’s leaders have also used nationalism to bolster the legitimacy of the Communist party.

But there are two forms of nationalism in China, according to Daniel A. Bell, Zhiyuan Chair Professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University:

The “hard” form often reported by the foreign media tends to be centered in Beijing’s military circles and the upper echelons of the party. ….Since few believe in Marxism anymore, the Chinese “Communist” Party seeks legitimacy by invoking a form of nationalism that assumes an antagonistic and competitive relationship with the rest of the world. In other words, hard nationalism is often put to use to make people serve the government, not the other way around.

But there is another form of nationalism – let’s call it “soft” nationalism – that makes moral sense in contemporary China…. [and] takes pride in Confucian values – a humanitarian outlook and self-improvement by learning from others – and both values are highlighted in Nanjing.

“Most Chinese intellectuals and political reformers recognize the need for a softer form of nationalism,” Bell suggests. “We will know that soft nationalism has reached Beijing when Confucius returns permanently to Tiananmen Square.

The current party leadership “must break with their predecessors in finally acknowledging the inherent tension that exists between cultivating blind nationalism at home while embracing globalization abroad,” argues Zheng Wang, a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

They should be aware that patriotism can easily become nationalism, and an overly nationalistic foreign policy will antagonize China’s trading partners and undercut economic development,’ he cautions, writes Zheng, the author of Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations:

The Chinese are pursuing the dream of rejuvenating the nation in the 21st century. In this process, however, China must not only modernize its financial system and infrastructure, but also strengthen its political institutions and education system. Chinese elites should recognize that their dream of restoring China’s long lost glory should actually be geared toward a realistic, less nationalistic goal of nation building.


Many analysts believe that the resilience of the PRC’s authoritarian regime is approaching its limits, as a result of deep changes that have been taking place in China. The state apparatus is still strong, but it must deal with an increasingly contentious, nimble, and resilient civil society.

But does this mean there will be a “tipping point” away from authoritarianism in the near future?

Andrew J. Nathan and Louisa Greve, who are among the contributors to a set of eight articles on China appearing in the January 2013 Journal of Democracy, and Maochun Yu will examine whether the evidence points to a coming period of significant political change in the PRC.

The International Forum for Democratic Studies

at the National Endowment for Democracy

cordially invites you to a luncheon presentation entitled

China at the Tipping Point?


Andrew J. Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Columbia University

Louisa Greve, National Endowment for Democracy

Maochun Yu, U.S. Naval Academy

Thursday, February 7, 2013 12 noon–2:00 p.m. (Lunch served 12:00–12:30 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, February 5.

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Kerry pledges to advance Venezuelan democracy

The Obama administration will insist that “any new elections [in Venezuela] should be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and transparent and must respect the universal human rights of the Venezuelan people,” said incoming Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry’s pledge, made in response to a question submitted during his nomination, will soon be published by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to analyst Roger Noriega:

Anticipating the death or incapacitation of Venezuela’s cancer-stricken leader Hugo Chávez, Kerry said, “The Venezuelan constitution and the Inter-American Democratic Charter should define the way ahead.” The new chief US diplomat also pledged to “support the strengthening of democratic institutions, respect for freedom of expression, rule of law, and the protection of human rights.”

The new secretary of state has his work cut out for him in promoting democracy, human rights, and anti-drug efforts in Venezuela. The State Department’s recent annual human rights report included a blunt critique of Venezuela under the Chavista regime:

The principal human rights abuses […] included government actions to impede freedom of expression and criminalize dissent. The government harassed and intimidated privately owned television stations, other media outlets, and journalists throughout the year, using threats, fines, property seizures, targeted regulations, and criminal investigations and prosecutions. The government did not respect judicial independence or permit judges to act according to the law without fear of retaliation. The government used the judiciary to intimidate and selectively prosecute political, union, business, and civil society leaders who were critical of government policies or actions.

There is ample evidence that Venezuela has become a narcostate under Chávez, with the most senior military officers and political leaders of the regime implicated in narcotrafficking.


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Why social movements should ignore social media

There are two ways to be wrong about the Internet, writes Evgeny Morozov:

One is to embrace cyber-utopianism and treat the Internet as inherently democratizing. Just leave it alone, the argument goes, and the Internet will destroy dictatorships, undermine religious fundamentalism, and make up for failures of institutions.1

Another, more insidious way is to succumb to Internet-centrism. Internet-centrists happily concede that digital tools do not always work as intended and are often used by enemies of democracy. What the Internet does is only of secondary importance to them; they are most interested in what the Internet means. Its hidden meanings have already been deciphered: decentralization beats centralization, networks are superior to hierarchies, crowds outperform experts. To fully absorb the lessons of the Internet, urge the Internet-centrists, we need to reshape our political and social institutions in its image.

Internet-centristsalso make a fetish of the virtual over the real world and assume that political problems have technical solutions, he notes in a critique of Steven Johnson’s Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age.

“Better systems for aggregating and dispensing knowledge can certainly help to solve many problems, but those are problems of a very peculiar nature,” Morozov writes in The New Republic:

Can Washington’s reluctance to intervene in Syria—to take just an extreme example—be blamed on a deficit of knowledge? Or does it stem, rather, from a deficit of will, or of principle? Would extending the participatory logic of Kickstarter [an online platform for artists to raise money from their fans] to the work of the National Endowment for Democracy or to the State Department’s Policy Planning staff lead to better policy on democracy promotion? Or will it result in more populist calls to search for Joseph Kony? 4 Can’t the lowering of barriers to participation also paralyze the system, as some would argue is the case with the proliferation of ballot initiatives in California?

The Internet does facilitate the dissemination of knowledge and decentralized structures that may enhance participation – and yet the ‘liquid democracy’ techniques of the German Pirate Party recommended by Johnson have hardly enhanced democratic participation.

As Der Spiegel dryly put it, “It’s a grassroots democracy where no one is showing up to participate.”

“If one assumes that political reform is long, slow, and painful, hierarchies and centralizing strategies can be productive. After all, they can keep the movement on target and give it some coherent shape,” notes Morozov:

Ideas on their own do not change the world; ideas that are coupled with smart institutions might. “Not by memes alone” would be an apt slogan for any contemporary social movement. Alas, this basic insight—that political reform cannot be reduced to the wars of memes and aesthetics alone, even if the Internet offers an effective platform for waging them—has mostly been lost on the Occupy Wall Street crowd.9 Challenging power requires a strategy that in many circumstances might favor centralization. To reject the latter on philosophical grounds rather than strategic grounds—because it is anti-Internet or anti-Wikipedia—borders on the suicidal.


Evgeny Morozov’s new book, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, will be published by PublicAffairs in March.

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Time to reform ‘Morsi’s Guns’

“Official autopsy reports on slain activists Amr Saad and Mohamed El-Gendy will be referred to the prosecutor-general’s office next week,” Al-Ahram reports.

The news is unlikely to stem the public outrage over the deaths and another incident in which police were caught on video (above) beating and dragging a naked man during last Friday’s protests.

The latest violence has drawn attention to the government’s failure to reform the security services and other aspects of a repressive state apparatus inherited from the former regime.

While the Mubarak-era’s “dreaded” State Security Investigations Service has been disbanded, “the hierarchy, culture, and philosophy endure,” says a leading analyst.

“Today, little has changed,” writes Joshua Stacher, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and an assistant professor of political science at Kent State University:

The SSI has simply been replaced by Egypt’s Homeland Security agency, which is just as violent as its predecessor; it is the same organization with a new name. One domestic nongovernmental organization claims that, in Morsi’s first 100 days, 88 people were tortured and 34 were extrajudicially murdered in police stations across the country, but not a single person connected to the new government’s coercive apparatus has been found guilty of a crime.

The US was “extremely disturbed by these incidents, including sexual assaults against women and the beating of a defenseless man last week,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“We urge the government of Egypt to thoroughly, credibly and independently investigate all claims of violence and wrongdoing by security officials and demonstrators and to bring perpetrators to justice. Accountability is the best way to prevent recurrences of these kinds of incidents.”

A 28-year-old protester died early Monday morning after allegedly being tortured to death, the Project for Middle East Democracy reports:

Mohammed el Gindy was protesting in Tahrir Square last month on the second anniversary of the country’s revolution before going missing for several days.  According to the Health Ministry, el Gindy, unconscious and suffering from internal bleeding, was brought by ambulance to a Cairo hospital January 28 – four days after he went missing – having been involvedin a “car accident.” Activists detained with el Gindy in a police roundup last week reported that he was taken to a police camp and subjected to torture.  Mona Amer, a spokeswoman for Popular Current, the party to which el Gindy belonged, said she observed signs of electrocution, strangulation and broken ribs on el Gindy’s body. Mohamed Abdel Aziz, a lawyer with Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, accused the hospital of changing el Gindy’s arrival date to conceal his kidnapping.  The Interior Ministry issued no immediate comment. 

“The Egyptian Ministry of Interior remains the country’s most virulently detested institution,” writes Stacher, the author of Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria (Stanford University Press, 2012).

“Reluctance to reform the Interior Ministry might have been expected from the military,” he writes for Foreign Affairs:

But, given that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were the victims of the state’s iron fist for so long, it is surprising that they are equally keen to keep the old system in place. Their desire to stay in power, it seems, has led them to lie with strange bedfellows. In addition, the transition from military to civilian rule was structured such that the winner of the presidential elections would be forced to compromise with the old regime. As a result, the president, together with the short-lived parliament and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), has ignored or blocked efforts by groups such as the National Initiative for Rebuilding the Police to professionalize and reform the security sector. And recent judicial rulings continue to place the police beyond the law, which encourages them to keep defending the regime, as opposed to serving the population. 


The Project for Middle East Democracy is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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