China: Economic Growth and Political Suppression. Can we be blind? Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, Redaktør Minerva, Leder, Unge Høyre I’m not an expert. I am a free market, fiscal conservative, and a social liberal – basing my views on the inherent power of ideas of human rights manifesting itself through historical processes. The Chinese dilemma is a challenge to all of us. Market reforms, combined with political oppression and an economic growth, saluted across the world. This is the danger when focus on economy and on pure monetary policies, overshadow basic, fundamental human rights. China has been a greater influence on us all here in the North than many would think. Think of the Mao-fans running around Norwegian campuses in the 70s, waving his little red book and preaching the gospel of socialist and communist revolution – trying to save communism from what they saw as a Stalinist dead end. Today China is no longer the morning star for the left in politics, even though the last number of “Red”, the Marxist Leninist party’s publication in Norway, is dedicated to the question: socialism in China, where did it go? The editor rightly states that Chinas was one of the two countries, regarded by the Marxist Leninist party as socialist during its 30 year heyday (the other, I think, was Albania), but reforms are now turning China away from socialism. What are we getting instead? Some people say that the political system that crushed the uprising on Tianamen Square no longer exists. I disagree. For three reasons. First of all I have no doubt that the communist regime would do the same again if its powers were really threatened. Second, Tianamen Square was in the center of the country, different uprisings are being crushed all over the country, but never get much attention since the places are more remote. Third, the policies of oppression from the Chinese government are – in fact – a long, never-ending Tianamen Square. What can we call a regime like this? How can it be described? Politically I think professor of politics Bernt Hagtvet at the University of Oslo is right when he describes China as having clear fascist tendencies. Today the socialist project has – like all other communist projects before it – collapsed in an authoritarianism– or real communism, as some of us would describe it. Some people say that communism is a good idea that doesn’t work in real life. I disagree. Communism is an evil, anti-individualist idea – and that’s why it doesn’t work in real life. Mao today is remembered, not for his socialism, but for his many women, his terror and the millions of victims his regime left behind. He is not mentioned together with the heroes of independence and freedom, but with the cabinet of terror from the last century: Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Pinochet... Mao. Today China is a morning star for many people on the centre-right in politics, but this admiration is based on numbers and calculation – not on political principle, not on political ideology, not on values, not on ideas. The economic profession salutes the progress of marked forces. The statisticians can prove that marked reforms have delivered a staggering fall in the number of people living in absolute poverty. Market forces – and capitalism – may spread the rewards in an uneven fashion, as Winston Churchill remarked, but it’s better than socialism spreading the misery equally. For business, both big, medium and small, China is a gigantic money vault finally opening to the world. In conservative and libertarian circuits we often stress that there has never existed a democracy without a market economy. That’s still correct. The market economy – with its basis of free transactions and human rights – is probably the only economic basis on which to build a democracy. But what defines a liberal democracy is not first and foremost the market economy – it’s the value given to the individual, it’s the due process of law, freedom from persecution, the right to expression and worship, the representative political system accountable to the citizens. China today has none of this. All the systems of democracy are either non-existent or deeply flawed. What we often forget – though – is that there have existed countries with a market economy, or something similar to it, but without democracy. China is just an example of a country with authoritarian politics, but a relatively free market, or at least developing some sort of market based economy – often with results that are, as I have already mentioned, quite remarkable from a purely economic point of view. In a way this situation looks more like Pinochets Chile, than what we’ve seen in other communist countries. Chile, with it’s mass executions on football stadiums, its regular round up of enemies of the state, its systematic oppression of political enemies – but also its free economics and impressive economic growth. As a conservative – and as a human being – I think it is our duty to warn against the purely utilitarian defense of a country, based on whatever market economy delivers the greatest growth. The libertarian-conservative Swedish philosopher Ingemar Nordin has warned the centre-right about the dangers of defending a market, purely based on statistics and economic figures. The Chinese dilemma illustrates a central challenge for all politicians. For it is thinkable that the communist party’s iron grip on Chinese politics makes the economy function better, at least for a period of time. Just as the slaves in the old, southern part of America were vital parts of that region’s rural economy. In the long run it’s hard for a country to prosper and maintain a dictatorship at the same time. But it’s easy to be blended by macro figures, at least in the short run. That’s why Ingemar Nordin so clearly stresses that no system of political oppression or evil can be defended based on efficiency or economic growth. Fundamental human rights are just that – fundamental – fundamental values that no politician can ever compromise with. In 2008 communist China gets it biggest chance ever to show off to the world when the Olympic Games come to Bejing. We should make sure that this is an occasion not only for the regime to boast, but also for dissidents to voice their grieves. F. A. Hayek, former Nobel laureate in economics, writes in his book “The Road to Serfdom” that economic and political freedom are two sides of the same issue. There can be no economic freedom without political freedom, and there can be no political freedom without economic freedom. If his point is correct – that taking away economic freedom will undermine political freedom – we can always hope that it’s possible to think the other way around as well – increasing economic freedom will also – in the end – increase political freedom, and abandon the ghastly dictatorship. We can always hope that economic growth will create a stable and independent middle class and with it the basis for a representative democracy respecting human rights. But we can not depend on it. Economic growth alone guarantees nothing. It is we – you and I – who have to stand tall for the values and principles of freedom. We cannot avoid responsibility; we cannot allow ourselves to be blended by macro figures of growth from the Empire of the Sun. A dictatorship is like a duck, if it looks like a dictatorship and acts like a dictatorship – it IS a dictatorship, no matter how well the economy is going. Man doesn’t live by bread alone.
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