Thu, Dec 07, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Interview: Illiberalism run amok

Reporters Without Borders chair Pierre Haski will give a lecture on Sunday about the rise of illiberal democracy throughout the globe

By Noah Buchan  /  Staff Reporter

Pierre Haski, chairman of Reporters Without Borders who will speak at Taipei’s Taiwan Academy of Banking and Finance on Sunday, speaks earlier this year at a conference on democracy in Warsaw, Poland.

Photo courtesy of Polityka Insight

Pierre Haski says Taiwan’s hard-won democracy is not irreversible. Citing Russia, Turkey and the Philippines as examples, a growing number of states that 20 years ago were feted as becoming free — or at least freer — have instead become increasingly illiberal.

Taiwan’s unique geopolitical situation with China and securing its hard-won democratic achievements at home will require strengthening the nation’s civil society and deepening press freedoms.

“Illiberalism usually starts with attacks on press freedom and the independence of the judiciary,” Haski tells the Taipei Times. “The whole society, therefore, should be involved in securing those two symbols of a strong democracy, counterweights to any attempt to take the country backwards.”

Haski, who is chairman of Reporters Without Borders, will be in Taipei on Sunday to give a lecture for the Lung Ying-tai Cultural Foundation (龍應台文化基金會) on the rise of illiberal democracy. The talk will be moderated by Kuo Chen-lung (郭崇倫), deputy managing editor of United Daily News.

The starting point of Haski’s lecture will be the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall, examining the general consensus at the time that liberal democracy and market economy “had won,” and that with time, even countries such as China, which had quashed in June of the same year the Tiananmen Square protests, would move in that direction.

“This was proved wrong,” Haski says, citing Poland and Hungary as states within the EU that have become illiberal, and Turkey, where the pendulum has swung towards authoritarianism. Haski’s main focus will be on Russia, which he finds “an interesting example of illiberal democracy.”


Lecture Notes

What: Is this the era of illiberal democracy?

When: Sunday from 2pm to 3:30pm

Where: Taiwan Academy of Banking and Finance (台灣金融研訓院), 2F, 62 Roosevelt Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路三段62號2樓)

Admission: Free, but those wanting to attend must pre-register by going to (English and Chinese). For more information, call Yuan Ti on (02) 3322-4907, Ext. 14

Details: The lecture will be held in English

When Fareed Zakaria wrote his prescient article two decades ago in Foreign Affairs magazine about the rise of illiberal democracy, he declared that “there are no longer respectable alternatives to democracy.” Yet, today it has become increasingly clear that other systems of governance are offering alternatives — ones that Haski finds concerning.

“China today clearly defies [Zakaria’s] sentence and has decided, particularly under the rule of [Chinese President] Xi Jinping (習近平), that it could continue on its path without even pretending to embrace what it sees as Western-style democracy,” says Haski, who was stationed in Beijing as a foreign correspondent from 2000 to 2005.

Haski says that China’s economic rise “contradicts every single political science theory of the past 30 years.” Many predicted that the rise of the Chinese economy would lead it on the path of liberal democracy, the rise of a middle class would demand democracy and accountability and that innovation was impossible in a country with authoritarian rule and severe censorship.

Haski, citing Hong Kong as an example, says Taiwan should not expect to be able to export its liberal political culture with its press freedoms and independent judiciary.

“Taiwan [does not have the] capacity to influence the political evolution of the [People’s Republic of China], not only because of information control on the continent which gives a distorted vision of [Taiwan’s] political life, but also because of the strong nationalist vision of the ‘Taiwan question’ on the mainland.”

And as China accelerates its ambitions and activism abroad, and with the diminished role of US President Donald Trump’s administration on the world stage and the EU continues to fracture over economic crisis, waves of migrants and Brexit, it is more important than ever for Taiwan to shore up its political institutions at home.

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