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Liberal democracy vs. authoritarianism

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2021 - 12:00am

The new cold war between China and the United States and its allies is not just a battle of self-interests and territorial disputes. Unlike most geopolitical observers, I hold that there are elements of an ideological struggle between the two sides.

oes not accept human rights as every citizen’s basic right, and a one-man personality cult at the top is the ideal for a government that is not rules-based.

On the other side is the liberal democratic model which calls for democratic elections as a means of changing governments. In this model there is also recognition of the basic rights and freedoms of each individual and a government whose power is rules-based. One basic difference is that in a liberal democracy, several political parties are allowed to actively participate in its electoral politics. In the China model, there is only one party that is actively allowed, like in Russia and North Korea.

As proof of the superiority of its authoritarian model, Chinese leaders have pointed to the success of its model for its economic prosperity and the lifting out of poverty of millions of Chinese. The Chinese Communist Party has suppressed dissension inside China and banned freedom of religion and assembly within its borders. It is conducting massive persecution of its Muslim minority in its Xinjiang province. China, in recent years, under the rule of Xi Jinping, has taken a more aggressive posture in maintaining its superiority in the international scene. The brutal suppression of democracy in Hong Kong was just one recent example.

A few years ago, the prodemocracy advocates of Hong Kong won overwhelmingly in every election that was held in Hong Kong. China’s answer was to completely ignore the results and the Hong Kong police started brutally suppressing demonstrations. Every pro-democracy advocate was either imprisoned or prevented from running in any more elections. Only “patriots” were allowed to run.

It is in the international scene that China has made it very clear that it will not allow any criticism of its policies and practices. One example is the case in Australia.

Like most liberal democratic states, Australia had banned the use of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, and condemned Beijing’s dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong and its brutal suppression of its Muslim minority – the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. There is clear evidence that the so-called re-education camps for the Uyghurs is really meant to stamp out its culture and force its people to adopt the Chinese culture.

Relationships between Australia and China almost collapsed when the Australia government called for an inquiry into the origin of the COVID-19 virus in China.

China has imposed sanctions amounting to $19 billion of Australian exports to China which is equivalent to 10 percent of Australia’s total exports. Unfortunately, most of Australia’s allies have not supported its political moves. Richard McGregor of the Lowy Institute wrote about the use of trade sanctions as a political weapon by China vis-à-vis Australia: “Countering these measures or alleviating their impact as a political weapon is difficult especially when commercial interests in friendly countries benefit from them. US farmers and Canadian miners have stepped in to fill the gap left by Australian crops and coal. French, Chilean and South African winemakers have rushed to make up the markets in Shiraz and Chardonnay.”

This is, by the way, the reality of capitalism. When there is a clash between profits and ideology, the maximization of profits will lead capitalists to deal even with countries seeking to destroy their own societies. American capitalists were dealing with Nazi Germany up to the very last moment when war was declared between the two countries.

There are many potential hot spots between China and the liberal democratic world. One recent controversy is the people’s uprising in Myanmar against its military rulers. The courage and the perseverance, especially of Myanmar’s youth and women, have given rise to a lot of mass support in the world for their democratic struggle.

There has been no condemnation of Myanmar’s ruthless suppression of its people’s rights. Any attempt at a United Nations declaration has been vetoed by China and Russia, who have given tacit approval to the military rulers of that country.

China’s aggression and illegal seizure of territories in the South China Sea have given rise to the strengthening of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the QUAD. This is an informal strategic dialogue among four countries – United States, Japan Australia and India. This dialogue was initiated in 2007 and it was paralleled by joint military exercises. This diplomatic and military alliance is widely viewed as a response to the increased Chinese economic and military power. The Chinese government has issued formal diplomatic protest to the members of the Quad claiming that was an anti-China alliance.

The most dangerous thing about China is that it is now pursuing an ideological line that says that authoritarianism and depriving people of human rights is the model for economic growth. The liberal democratic states, like the United States, Japan and Australia, must articulate an alternative vision that will show the world that an open society with universal values and human rights is not just “American values,” but these are freedoms and rights inherent in every decent society.

*      *      *

Young Writers’ Hangout via Zoom on March 27, 2-3 p.m. with Divine Gil Reyes.

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com.  0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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