June 27, 2011

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao describes a fully democratic future China

Xinhua News - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao describes a democratic and technology future vision for China.

"Tomorrow's China will be a country that fully achieves democracy, the rule of law, fairness and justice," the Chinese premier noted.

He pointed out that the best way to resolve the existing problems in China is "to firmly advance the political reform and build socialist democracy under the rule of law."

Wen also said that in the future, China will be a more open, inclusive, culturally advanced and harmonious country, and will be a country committed to peaceful development and ready to shoulder its responsibilities.

China should not only continue to open up in economic, scientific and technological fields, but also promote cultural progress and social management through boldly learning from others, he said.

China should create a better political environment and a freer academic atmosphere, he said.

Wen Jiabao has made pro-democracy statements within China in 2010 but then Wu Bangguo, officially number two in the Politburo pecking order behind President Hu Jintao, warned that any move to adopt Western-style democracy risked undermining China's economic achievements and plunging the country into chaos. Wu Bangguo said that China will never embrace multiparty democracy or have an independent judiciary (March, 2011).

We will stick to scientific development, work hard to shift the model of economic development and achieve green, low-carbon and sustainable development," he noted.

He also said that the Chinese government will expand domestic demand; redouble efforts to improve public welfare, create jobs, and develop education, health and other social programs on a priority basis; deepen the reform of income distribution; and ensure that China's development achievements will be shared by the Chinese people of all ethnic groups.

"Science and technology hold the key to China's economic prosperity and sustainable development," Wen added.

Recently, Charles Robertson, chief economist of Renaissance Capital, predicted that China will be a democracy by 2017 China could be a democracy by 2017 assuming the economy grows and annual incomes rise to $15,550 a head.

Andrew Leung international consultant looks at the prediction of 2017 for Chinese democracy

It is true that demands for democracy will grow with higher income levels. But this linear projection is flawed in the case of China for the following reasons -

First, size of the economy and GDP per capita can be highly misleading. Although Goldman Sachs forecasts China's economy to overtake the US by 2027, her GDP per capita still ranks about 100th, amongst some of the poorest countries in Africa. This is what Premier Wen Jiabao refers to as the paradox of 1.3 billion people. What appears as a big economy comes to peanuts when divided by that number and what appears to be a small problem can become colossal when multiplied by that number.

Second, the driver for democracy is generally the more educated middle-class. A study in McKinsey Quarterly (2006) indicates that the annual household income cohort RMB 100,001 (US$15,459) to 200,000 is expected to jump from 9.8% of the total in 2005 to 36.4% by 2025. Many people will become much happier financially but that level of income at that % proportion by 2025 hardly justifies the Roberson prediction.

Third, similarly, democracy may become more likely when a country's economy becomes more consumer-oriented. Consumption now only accounts for 34% China's economy. Stephen Roach, Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and author of 'The Next Asia (John Wiley and Sons, 2009) reckons the growth of China's consumption in the next few decades could be as fast as 1% of GDP a year. That will take another 16 years from now for China's economy to have just 50% represented by consumption. That will be exactly 2027, when Goldman Sachs thinks China's economy will overtake the US, which may provide an opportunity for China to turn more democratic. That is still 10 years after Robertson's chosen date.

Fourth, I used the word 'more' advisedly. President Hu used the 'D' word 61 times in his open address at the CPC Congress in 2007. 'Democracy' is in fact mentioned in the Chinese Constitution, though, irconically, not in the Constitution chartered by American's Founding Fathers, according to Steve Hanke, a celebrated Professor of Apllied Economics with John Hopkins Univerity and Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute. Indeed, China has become much more 'democratic' compared with the days of Chairman Mao. There is no doubt that this progress will continue. For example, there are more open and genuine elections at the village level (in fact covering the majority of China's population). But that is not to say China is necessarily heading to the Western multi-party adversarial model of democracy.

Fifth, recent performance of Western adversarial politics, such as the current paralysis in the US Congress, only serves to reinforce the conviction of Chinese leaders that it's best to develop China's own model of democracy.

Sixth, regardless of any repressions, cults and separatists, there is as yet no widely-based political movement for change and no alternative political party or figure exist. It is difficult to imagine that by 2017, things could have evolved so dramatically for a country of 1.3 billion people with diverse interests and developments in 32 provinces, municipalities, 2 special adminstrative regions, and 56 ethnic groups.

Seventh, the Chinese Communist Party is not exactly unpopular, winning the highest ratings in the world in independent surveys of how people feel their country is going, according to successive PEW surveys over the past few decades.

Foreign Affairs - Development and Democracy (8 pages) By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George W. Downs September/October 2005

Summary: Conventional wisdom has long assumed that economic liberalization undermines repressive regimes. Recent events, however, suggest that savvy autocrats have learned how to cut the cord between growth and freedom, enjoying the benefits of the former without the risks of the latter. Washington and international lenders should take note.

Development First, Democracy Later? Or Democracy First, Development Later? The Controversy over Development and Democracy Liang-chih Evans Chen (36 pages)

Should We Try to Predict Transitions to Democracy?: Lessons for China (2005, 16 pages, The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations)

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