Myanmar’s democracy has lessons for China

By Ku Chung-hwa 顧忠華  / 

Mon, Nov 26, 2012 - Page 8

Lately, there has been much discussion about President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), after British-based weekly news magazine The Economist carried an article in its Nov. 17 edition titled “Ma the bumbler.”

However, much of the international media have instead been focused on US President Barack Obama’s first overseas trip after his re-election during which he went to Myanmar and met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. During the visit, Obama not only kissed Aung San Suu Kyi, he also praised Myanmar as a country on a “remarkable journey” of reform.

One can try to imagine a situation in which one day the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, announces that he will initiate a democratization process in North Korea.

Would Obama then embark on a journey to Pyongyang, clearing North Korea’s name from the “axis of evil” while also giving Kim a big hug?

If anyone were to have mentioned the above scenarios a year ago, they would have been called mad. However, the first scenario has already happened, so who can say with certainty that the second one will not also happen?

In the evolution of human societies and culture, one often witnesses sudden and surprising changes, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What Taiwanese should be most concerned about is whether China will also start to walk down the path to political reform after current Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) takes over as Chinese president early next year. At the moment, more balanced analyses point to Xi doing something to give himself a good name in the history books.

During the speech Xi delivered at the closing ceremony of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 18th Party Congress — a speech that lasted 18 minutes — Xi used the word “people” a total of 19 times.

He especially stressed that “people’s wishes for a good life” is one of the main goals that China is working hard to achieve.

Xi also proclaimed that his policies will focus on eradicating problems like corruption, a lack of connection with the general public, formalism and bureaucracy — all issues that the Chinese public find extremely painful.

It is unclear whether these promises will be fulfilled, especially in the face of the serious corruption found in China’s bureaucracy.

Even if Xi is aware that reform is necessary, lest the party and the state collapse, there is still the possibility that he could get deeply embroiled in the complex structure of vested interests, ending up in a situation where his hands are tied and he is incapable of implementing the necessary reforms.

However, the political transformation taking place in Myanmar shows that the wave of democratization cannot be stopped.

This is not only a revelation for Xi and the others in the new generation of CCP leaders; it is also a form of pressure.

Supposing that someday even North Korea were to start to loosen up, would China then really want to hang on to totalitarianism, becoming the last despotic regime in the history of mankind?

Ku Chung-hwa is a standing board member of Citizen Congress Watch.

Translated by Drew Cameron