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Dictators sticking together

May 25th, 2005

According to the People’s Daily

China firmly supports Uzbekistan’s moves to crack down on the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and maintain domestic and regional stability for peaceful development, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Beijing Tuesday

To the extent that the Chinese regime has any coherent foreign policy, its primary principle is opposition to any intervention in the internal affairs of dictatorships. The more brutal the dictatorship, the happier China is to lend its support, and of course, the better the Chinese regime looks by comparison. Sometimes, this principle brings China into conflict with the Bush Administration, as in the case of Iraq. In other cases, as in that of Uzbekistan, the two see eye to eye.

I look forward to a possible future when only democratically-elected governments are regarded as legitimate. That doesn’t mean support for the Bush doctrine that any external enemy who wants to overthrow such a government by force should be free to do so. But it would mean suspension from the UN and all similar bodies, in the same way as currently happens in the event of a military coup in a Commonwealth country, as well as embargos on any form of military contracts or arms sales. The critical requirement for such a future is a democratic China. As I’ve written before, I don’t think this is as impossible as it seems. The apparent solidity of the Chinese regime conceals the erosion of its foundations in Communist ideology, and in the historical legitimacy of past generations of leaders. It’s a statue with a golden head and feet of clay.

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  1. May 25th, 2005 at 19:09 | #1

    John,

    The Chinese government cannot go with the “us dictators together” meme when Chinese minorities are getting killed or evacuated in other countries. They’ll be either silent, or give a shallow protest for form’s sake. When the anti-Chinese pogroms were happening in Indonesia a couple of years ago, there were protests outside their embassy in Beijing. The government couldn’t really do anything.

    And sometimes they launch wars against fellow oligarchies. Otherwise, what you said.

  2. Tom Davies
    May 25th, 2005 at 23:21 | #2

    Or head of clay and feet of gold?

  3. May 26th, 2005 at 05:03 | #3

    That would certainly be nice – an even better standard would allow only societies with limited government and protection of property rights to be regarded as “legitimate” by the “international community”. This would practically exclude the EU should its monstrous MacMillan Encyclopaedia length constitution be assented to.

  4. Ros
    May 26th, 2005 at 08:18 | #4

    “I look forward to a possible future when only democratically-elected governments are regarded as legitimate.”
    Do you have a view JQ or anyone on the value or role of the Community of Democracies in meeting such a goal.
    I am aware of but have no understanding of the Community of Democracies. I read their report of recommendations for their next gathering and note that China, obviously is not included, that Russia should be excluded and Taiwan should be included. Despite my efforts I can’t work out who are the ongoing members other than Canada, US Chile and Europe. Australia made a submission re improving the status of women in the UN system.
    Is it part of the UN, sanctioned by the UN or just tolerated by it. Does it have any real standing or is it a bit of a sinecure for retired players.
    It takes to task the UN’s Democracy Caucus in its address to that body, which should be encouraging?
    “Despite this progress, we were very disappointed by the failure of the Democracy Caucus to rally support for critical resolutions concerning the grave human rights situation in Sudan, Belarus and Zimbabwe….. We strongly oppose the argument proffered by some governments that country-specific resolutions should be avoided on grounds that they constitute undue interference in internal affairs.�

  5. jquiggin
    May 26th, 2005 at 08:39 | #5

    Ros, I hadn’t heard of this body. It sounds worthy, but Google turns up this worrying story

  6. Benno
    May 26th, 2005 at 10:16 | #6

    Of course a country isn’t really democratic unless it has Condorcet Voting for single member and/or proportional representation for multimember electorate/s.

    While Israel may appear a democratic country under my definition, even it isn’t. http://www.knesset.gov.il/faction/eng/FactionEtc_eng.asp

    “According to the Parties Law (1992), a party is defined as a group of people who have come together in order to pursue legally political or social goals, and to bring about their representation in the Knesset. Since the passing of this law, there are clear regulations regarding the establishment of parties, their registration with the Parties Registrar, their institutions, assets, activities, finances, etc… The law also determines the limitations on a party’s potential registration. The following prohibitions are included in these limitations:

    *Any rejection (in the party’s goals or activities) of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.

    *Any incitement to racism.

    *Any support of the armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist organization against the State of Israel

    *Any hint of a cover for illegal activity. ”

    It should be clear that restrictions 1 and 3 are anti-democratic and that the wording of restrictions 2 and 4 means that they can easily be abused for anti-democratic causes.

    So, given my definition does anyone know how many countries are democracies?

  7. Ros
    May 26th, 2005 at 12:42 | #7

    I pressed on from that link and the good thing about that report is that it seems that NGO’s are embedded in the Community, seem almost integral to it.?.So that would appear to be a report to the body rather than a pleading, I think. I still can’t get a grip on it but got to their meeting Santiago Chile April 28-29, which was as follows.
    The Non-Governmental participants began their work in a Preparatory Meeting held on the morning of the 27th to discuss the publication “Voices from the Regions� that compiles the proposals from the regional workshops and the regional working groups that were formed during the Final Meeting of the Non-Governmental Process, held on March 3rd and 4th in Santiago. This document can be found on http://www.santiago2005.org. Participants reviewed the preliminary draft of the government commitments in the Santiago Declaration and crafted an “Appeal by the Non-Governmental Delegates to Governments by the Non-Governmental Process�.
    The Ministerial Meeting was structured into five thematic and five regional panels. Each panel was led by a chair and was attended by about 20 government representatives and five non-governmental representatives. During the morning of the 29th, the following panels took place:
    Condi was there, range of Foreign Ministers, eg Korea, including however the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan. New Zealand there at Ministerial level chairing the Asia Oceania panel. Couldn’t find Australia at state or ngo level however.
    Santiago 2005

  8. Peter Smith
    May 26th, 2005 at 13:16 | #8

    The problem as I see it:

    1. Find a rigorous definition of Democracy;

    2. Find a country that rigorously conforms to that definition;

    3. Would you really want to live there?

    Regards.

  9. May 26th, 2005 at 14:02 | #9

    For the benefit of Benno, Belgium doesn’t allow “racist” parties to run in elections either.

  10. observa
    May 26th, 2005 at 15:10 | #10

    “I look forward to a possible future when only democratically-elected governments are regarded as legitimate.”

    That’s exactly the problem with ascribing any real international legitimacy to the currently formatted UN. Ditch it for a self defining United Democratic Liberal Nations. The problem of definition of liberal democracy can be left to prospective club members to sort out. Set the bar too high(PC esoteric wankery) and the club may be too exclusive. No doubt it would largely be a Western MDC members only club, with associate non-voting probationary membership for all the other triers. Our money funds the UN now and it’s about time we burnt the critical gangster leeches. Still doesn’t solve the problem of weighting votes for international security intervention measures. eg Iraq. Perhaps ultimate invasion of a country like Iraq could involve referenda in the member states (Bit optimistic but it’d be fun watching the Saddam’s squirm as the various members held referendums on certain dictator’s futures)

    Seems like the US State Dept is aware of the problems in Uzbek here
    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,15410962-23109,00.html

  11. observa
    May 26th, 2005 at 15:39 | #11

    Speaking of legitimacy, this is the sort of crap liberal democracies have to contend with http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,15410913-23109,00.html

    Amnesty simply froths at the mouth with no sense of prioritisation of problems or ranking of miscreants and they wonder why many of us no longer take them seriously or regard them with any real legitimacy.

  12. Andrew Reynolds
    May 26th, 2005 at 16:53 | #12

    Sorry, observa – I mostly agree with you, but not on this. What is happening at Gitmo is an obsenity with is providing the opponents of Liberal Democracy with the perfect, easy argument as to why their ‘war’ is not terrorism, but a legitimate reaction.
    The fact it has been done is bad enough, the fact it continues is worse.

  13. observa
    May 26th, 2005 at 17:12 | #13

    Agreed Gitmo is problematic, but it’s damned if they do and damned if they don’t and the detainees are freed to kill. They might be comfortable turning them over to a UDLN court however. In the meantime they’ll probably be comfortable leaving it up to the US civil court to turn them loose.

  14. May 26th, 2005 at 19:48 | #14

    Pr Q writes:

    I look forward to a possible future when only democratically-elected governments are regarded as legitimate.

    I look forward to a possible future where democracy is the font of legitimacy, always assuming their is a place for an apolitical Royal Family as ceremonial Heads of State. However, legitimacy is the first virtue of government, it is not the only one. Efficacy and equity are vital.

    The problem arises with the notion of democracy. Anglophones regard democracy as majority rule and minority rights. Constitutional law regulates political society, contractual law regulates civil society and the Rule of Judicial Law binds the former to the latter.

    To most people, democracy means just periodic popular elections, with a chance for the side that has the numbers to get on top and do its worst. This, in ethnic- & sectarian-conflicted societies, can simply lead to Predatory Democracy where rival gangs alternate turns in public office for the privilege of ripping off their adversaries and rewarding their allies. The sobering case of Iraq’s experiment with democracy is another case in point.

    In the actual present I see that CIS has had democracy for more than a decade during which time that nation was looted by a coalition of insiders – apparatchiks, oligarchs and mafiosi. This has got so bad Russia is now actually enduring a demographic collapse brought on by poor public health: alchoholism and prostitution. The insiders were much aided in their crimes against the outsiders by the veneer of legitimacy provided by elections.

    Meanwhile the PRC has continued with dictatorship during the same period, preferring to have perestroika before glasnost. Its political authoritarianism has meant that it has avoided the bloody secessionist and sectarian disputes that have marred the break-up of other imperial one-party states eg USSR, INDON.

    The PRC, in contrast to the CIS, has meantime slowly developed better mechanisms of accountability, as evinced by the emergence local elections, independent media and civil lawyers. And it is no secret that, as a corollary, the Chinese people are healthier and wealthier, if not necessarily wiser for their rulers obstinate grip on power.

    The take home lesson from this is that democracy is better established as a bottom-up evolutionary process, rather than top-down revolutionary present.

  15. May 26th, 2005 at 20:06 | #15

    Sigh. JQ, I’ve pointed this out before: you cannot have “democracy” unless various bases of legitimacy have been established first, simply because democracy is an incomplete system to begin with. If nothing else, without a legitimate – and independent – definition of “the people”, you cannot get on with the mechanics of democracy. Once you do, whatever legitimacy there is in the democracy is merely flowing from that underlying definition. Simply to accept “democracy” as a test is to accept whatever incomprehensions may have been embedded to begin with.

    Does any of that sound familiar in relation to current specific instances of “democracy”?

    To remind people, the incompletenesses of democracy are as follows:-

    - It cannot define “the people” (except in the sort of circular way that justifies apartheid etc.).

    - It is inherently susceptible to selective editing and agenda control, either consciously by capturing groups or inadvertently by whatever is embedded in any particular culture. (This is why the Sunnis are being faced with “boycott it and be left out, join and imply endorsement”, a ploy which the 19th century Irish found could be defeated by “join and sabotage”.)

    - It cannot make things right or wrong by voting, it can at best transmit and express separate systems of ethical values (see how Athens variously dealt with Mytilene and Malos).

    I will not repeat the specific historical examples which support those general observations.

  16. May 26th, 2005 at 20:21 | #16

    Pr Q writes:

    The more brutal the dictatorship, the happier China is to lend its support, and of course, the better the Chinese regime looks by comparison. Sometimes, this principle brings China into conflict with the Bush Administration, as in the case of Iraq.

    The PRC is seeking legitimacy as a promoter of Chinese national interests, which it roughly defines as territorial and industrial. I dont think the PRC really cares all that much whether other nations are democratic or despotic, although it prefers dictators. What bothers them is whether other nations are powerful or not, and whether they are friendly or foey.

    The PRC was not that cut up by the Bush admins regime change of Iraq’s dictator. It was quite relaxed and comfortable about the US’s hawkish line in the UN. Hence it did not exercise its veto over the second UNSC resolution that the US sought to authorse the use of force.

    Although the CCP got on well with the Baathists, it probably accurately foresaw the difficulties that the US military would experience there. The Peoples Daily was quite open about its machiavellian attitude towards the US deposition of Hussein:

    the United States would have no time to attend to the East, and so its foreign strategy would have to devote energy to this hot spot. Against such a background, China could win a number of years of a relatively relaxed international environment.

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