Democratic versus authoritarian model

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

During the recently concluded G7 summit meeting, the seven heads of state including the United States, United Kingdom. France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan arrived at several agreements. The most important was the agreement that the most important competitor of the alliance of democracies in the world is China. There was some reluctance from some European countries whose world view is that Russia is the main threat. However, with the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom leading the way, the final joint communique, at the end of the summit meeting, named China as the main competitor, which has been publicly and globally promoting its authoritarian form of government as the ideal model for the world.

Until this year, the West, including the United States, has believed that the Chinese Communist Party might be induced to grant more freedom to its people; or the Chinese people might be induced to overthrow the CCP. Both are unrealistic choices and regime change has not always been the right choice.

Another factor is that Xi Jinping is leading on a path very different from Deng Xiaoping and very similar to Mao Zedong. According  to Kevin Rudd of Australia and president of the Asia Society, Xi is using the threat of foreign subversion to strengthen domestic security measures and rally the disgruntled CCP elites against this “foreign threat.”

He said: “The last factor is particularly important for Xi, because one of his main goals is to remain in power until 2035, by which time he will be 82, the age at which Mao passed away. Xi’s determination to do so is reflected in the party’s abolition of term limits, its recent announcement of an economic plan that extends all the way to 2035 and the fact that Xi has not even hinted at who might succeed him even though only two years remain in his official term. Xi experienced some difficulty in the early part of 2020, owing to a slowing economy and the COVID-19 whose Chinese origins put the CCP on the defensive.” However, by the end of 2020, official media were hailing Xi as the CCP’s new “great navigator and helmsman” who had won the “people’s war” against the coronavirus.

Rudd also writes: “And just in case any ambitious party official harbors thoughts about an alternative candidate to lead the party after Xi’s term is supposed to end in 2022, Xi recently launched a major purge – a reunification campaign, as the CCP calls it – of members deemed insufficiently loyal.”

A major goal of China is to be able to arrive at a point where China does not have to fear any sanctions from the West in response to violations of human rights. This will allow the CCP to continue persecuting minorities like Muslim Uyghurs and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy groups in spite of objections and potential sanctions from democratic countries.

This push from economic dependency will require more state control and party control over the economy. In such a situation the influence of local entrepreneurs who have been advocating less party control will be perceived as a threat to the authoritarian power of Xi and the CCP. This has already resulted in the silencing of several Chinese entrepreneurs including Jack Ma, its most famous business entrepreneur.

This is a dilemma that other authoritarian leaders have faced in the past. Can central political control be tightened without extinguishing entrepreneurial spirit and business dynamism in the private sector?

A much written problem for Xi is the issue of Taiwan. As the CCP increases its control over China, the farther away is its ultimate objective of taking over Taiwan, a country which has solid democratic foundations. There was a time a peaceful reunification looked possible under a “one nation, two systems” formula. However, after the CCP completely abandoned this formula in its brutal takeover of Hong Kong, no one believes that Xi is serious about this proposal. His only recourse now would be a reunification through military means which could lead to war with the United States.

It is clear from several articles and pronouncements by Chinese politicians that Xi believes that China is on the path to replacing the United States as the major superpower of the world.

Rudd writes: “Washington, Xi believes, is highly unlikely to recover its credibility and confidence as a regional and global leader. And he is betting that as the next decade progresses, other world leaders will come to share this view and begin to adjust their strategic postures accordingly, gradually shifting from balancing with Washington against Beijing to hedging between two powers to bandwagoning with China.”

China’s greatest worry is that the US might form an effective coalition with democracies around the world with the aim of balancing against China.

President Biden has embarked on this path. First he has bolstered the QUAD alliance of the USA, Japan, Australia and India as an IndoPacific alliance to contain China. Next he has convinced the G7 that China is the main competitor of the democratic world.

Another important but overlooked accomplishment of Biden is that it is reported that during the Biden-Putin summit, the two agreed to arrive at an arms control agreement and to lessen the chances of conflict. Putin is probably interested in making sure that China does not become the sole power in the world. People forget that Russia and China share common boundaries. On one side is Russia rich in natural resources and millions of square miles with only a population of 130 million. On the other side is China with very poor natural resources and 1.4 billion people.

In the end this will be a struggle between two systems – a democratic model and an authoritarian model. The winner will be the model that most of the world will follow.

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A writing workshop for adults: Writing from One’s Roots by Kristian Sendon Cordero, June 26, 2-3:30 p.m. Writefest2021, an annual 6-session workshop returns, on July 12-23. Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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