Asia-Pacific

Dec 10, 2013

Why China won’t — and shouldn’t — become a liberal democracy

Western commentators say China can't keep going as it is without adopting a Western-style government. Former political adviser and University of Melbourne academic Mark Triffitt says it never will -- and that's a good thing.

Li Keqiang

How long can China’s one-party state resist political reform and the inevitability of becoming a Western-style democracy? That’s the question many China watchers are asking as China continues its fourth decade of economic transformation based on Western market doctrines.

16 comments

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16 thoughts on “Why China won’t — and shouldn’t — become a liberal democracy

  1. Simon Mansfield

    Where’s the wall.

  2. Victor Boase

    After a recent visit to southern China I came away thinking that the acceptance of a right to private property and freedom of expression may be more important than universal franchise to the Chinese. You do not need a “liberal democracy” for that. It has been posited elsewhere that access to the rights associated with private property are a singular driver of economic performance and were the chief obstacle to growth for command economies.

  3. Elvis

    A challenging and well articulated article – thanks.

    Now, how to modernise our own democracies…

  4. Michael

    No mention that China is a profoundly corrupt state? The power of the party and the extent of corruption will inevitably lead to upheaval. Al animals are equal but some……….

  5. Daly

    Thanks for a very good article.
    Michael, one of the major reasons US liberal democracy doesn’t work is because the members of Congress are answerable only to the business and corporate interests that fund them, not the electorate. I call that the highest form of corruption where the political system has been bought.
    That’s what happened in our last election when Murdoch, Rinehart and big business bought the LibNats and now they are paying for the support from the increased taxes of the poorest Australians. You don’t have to go to China for corruption.

  6. Peter_PPVH

    Contesting blind principles such as western democracy is a bold move, however it is well articulated in this article. Another striking example is demonstrated in Eurpoe where the market meltdown has lead to the suspension of democracy in favour of rule by technocrats.

  7. moreyan

    Mark Triffet’s article Why China won’t — and shouldn’t — become a liberal democracy, was puzzling. Really… no need for a Chinese democracy? Chinese Communism, is, ahem, working? Could someone email Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Nobel laureate, the article?

    It would be easy to ignore this as another of those articles written by a former political warrior now political theorist/policy expert/media commentator/blogger about how the [insert country/society] could have been improved/changed/reformed if only one didn’t have to persevere through antiquated/archaic/tired/redundant institutions and processes. Oh, and I almost forgot, add comparator country with benevolent dictator/party and well-performing economy as evidence to support said propositions. But that would be too easy. That would be a continuation of the Australian government’s approach to the Australian-Chinese relationship that has seen human rights moved into the abyss of dinner speeches and articles ghost-written for publication in policy/political publications while trade volumes increased.

    It is of course pointless to outline the various ironies, hypocrisies and just plain hutzpah in claiming that the current system in the ‘West’ (whatever that tired phrase now means) is tired and, presumably, broken. Perhaps Crikey could publish an article about the institutional actors who have been complicit in undermining democratic systems, say like corporate lobbyists…

    PS: Public consultation is not ‘political innovation’.

  8. Simon Mansfield

    This is just noble elitism dressed up as intellectualism. Four Legs Good – Two Legs Better. Though, at least for once it can’t be blamed on soppy leftist appeasement, as this little puppy is straight from the ivory tower of Melb Uni and a fully signed up member of the Tory Owning Class. A former Kennent Govt Advisor and member of the BCA – all of which – for some reason – was left out of the bio statement.

    Democracy is an evolutionary concept. It’s current mode is based on the institutions that developed out of the age of enlightenment. That was in turn based on early concepts, and which in time will evolve into something better. But it is still about democratic participation by the whole of society without an elitist overlord class holding a monopoly on power.

    It took the west centuries to develop our liberal democratic civilizations, that China has a long way to go simply reflects that the social revolution has only just begun in the middle kingdom – albeit 2000 years after the west began that journey.

    What this is really about is creating the moral justification for ignoring human rights in China so the Tory Owning Class can continue to sell our own workers out, while exploiting the recently urbanized peasants in the factories of China.

    The Noble Elite is no better a concept than the Noble Savage or Nick Carter’s new concept of the Noble Bogan. As I said first up – where’s the wall.

  9. Toodles

    “It has become nearly impossible for elected politicians and parliaments to know or anticipate what is going on in the super-fast and super-complex world that now surrounds them.”

    This would be a justification for anarchy, not totalitarianism. It’s difficult to understand what is being argued for here.

    Also, the Chinese Communist state has tried public participation before in the Hundred Flowers Campaign. I guess they are hoping for better answers this time.

  10. Anon

    So, Mark, are you also of the opinion that Australia should adopt a single-party state? Should we be fine with junking “tired old” democracy (and other tedious, dated concepts like freedom of political and artistic expression, ability to dissent, unfettered internet and so on) so long as we get to keep a few focus groups? Let us hope that this indifference towards Western democracy isn’t too widespread here, because if there’s anything governments love to exploit, it’s apathy.

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