With regard to the close ties of Yale and the U.S. government with China in recent years, many media and human rights groups have been keen to portray the country as “a gross human rights violator” where freedom of speech is severely limited. Many believe that it is urgent for the Chinese government to undertake radical political reforms to create democracy and guarantee human rights. While such calls for reform are pleasing to Western ears, if such a call is heeded by any country with no previous experience in democracy, the country will be destined to suffer from political chaos and socioeconomic collapse.
The violent situation in a democratic Iraq backed by American troops should serve as a lesson to all the major groups in the world that see the spread of democracy and human rights to every corner of the globe as their God-sent mission. A sense of trust in democracy cannot be instilled overnight in the minds of people who have never experienced it. They are accustomed to the idea of stability by force under a dictatorship or oligarchy and cannot easily grasp the value of democratic participation and the respect for human rights that goes along with it.
For example, the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union was caused by Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika. The rapid political and economic liberalization did not lead to a sense of unity around a federal democracy, but simply caused the dissolution of the country. The individual Soviet republics saw Gorbachev’s reforms simply as a sign of desperate weakness and used their newly gained “freedoms” to break away from the larger political entity.
One can see a similar pattern in Iraq today. Instead of accepting the multi-ethnic democracy, the different groups find it more appealing to create their own states and avoid the possibility of losing in democracy to other groups. The independence movements can be organized much more effectively with the new freedoms of assembly and speech, instigating violence between independence movements and the forces of the democratic government. The violent conflict leading from the political chaos causes rapid economic deterioration. Thus, democratization should not be pursued until the leaders are taught not to resort directly to violence when faced with the prospect of democratic defeat.
There is no doubt that democracy is a great idea. Yet, as shown by the bleak circumstances of nations in which it has been created suddenly, not all countries are ready for it. Even countries recognized as model democracies, such as France and Germany, went through decades of turmoil before becoming stable. India, which proudly calls itself the largest democracy in the world, suffers from bureaucratic inefficiencies that hamper socioeconomic developments.
The advent of democracy requires patience, especially in China. After all, with GDP growth close to 10 percent, the Chinese people are growing richer every day. When its economy is strong, a nation’s people are content, despite faults in government policies. Unless the government makes an absolutely intolerable move, the people would not ask for or support drastic democratic reforms just to see their own extraordinary economic success chipped away.
It is true that people will become more and more concerned about their ability to participate in the government’s decision-making process in order to secure their increasingly high standard of living. However, they realize that such ability should be gained only as long as social stability is kept intact. Many Chinese people would regard the implementation of democratic values with a sense of doubt and suspicion. Many may envisage the possibility of chaos and rising unemployment. Seeking a drastic shift to democracy will probably result in little support inside China, which, ironically, could cause the democracy movement to become an elitist movement, faced with indifference and even disgust from the masses.
While democracy should be a cause supported by all mankind, the methodology used by pro-democracy and human rights groups is ineffective and detrimental to the countries where democratic principles are being spread. Democratic principles must be instilled in people through years of trial and experimentation, debates and disagreements. Before the installation of democracy, it is important to teach the different groups to accept peacefully their many potential defeats in the democratic process, thus allowing the common citizen to give up the idea that democracy may cause political chaos and economic depression. Such a drastic change of attitude in the minds of groups and people who have never experienced democracy cannot be completed overnight, as pro-democracy groups in the West wish. Even if the process of understanding democratic values takes decades, it must be completed without haste, in order for a true democracy to blossom without fear of violence and instability.
Xiaochen Su is a freshman in Davenport College.