Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Road To Democracy

Updated: January 18, 2014 10:34 am

In the field of governance, India is decades ahead of China. China pretends to be a ‘great power’, but has no clue about the meaning of the UN Declaration of Human Rights

China Tibet Online, a Chinese website affiliated with Xinhua news agency recently announced: “Total road mileage nearly doubles in Tibet”. It reported: “The total road mileage in Tibet nearly doubled from 35,583 kilometres to 65,176 kilometres from 2002 to 2012. The total mileage of new and renovated road in Tibet reached 39,157 kilometers during this period.”

Tashi Gyatso, head of Tibet Transportation Department, told the reporter: “Transportation in Tibet developed quickly in the recent decade with a hefty investment of 8 billion US dollars, among which 1.5 billion dollars was invested in 2012, the largest amount of its kind,” he added: “Besides the increase of total mileage, the grades also get higher.” He pointed to an obvious truth: “The improving transportation infrastructures help to boom local economic development.”

India can only be jealous of the Middle Kingdom in this respect. One is left wishing we had more ‘decisive leaders’ understanding the strategic interests of the country (as well was the common man’s concerns).

Not only does China keep developing its road network, but the railway lines too. Two months ago, Beijing announces that it would soon expand its Tibetan railway line to Shigatse. The bridge over the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), near the southern city was completed in September.

Xinhua then asserted: “Along with the 32-meter-long T-shaped beam which was put slowly on the pier of the No.1 grand bridge of Lhasa-Shigatse railway over the Yarlung Tsangpo River by the bridge layer, the track-laying of the Lhasa-Shigatse railway has spanned the Yarlung Zangbo [Tsangpo or Brahmaputra] River for the first time.” During a recent visit to Arunachal, I was repeatedly told (with envy) by Arunachali friends: “For roads and infrastructure, the Chinese are very much in advance on us.”

Yes, it is a basic fact: infrastructure (roads, airports, railway, etc.) is far more developed in Tibet than in the Indian Himalayas. Another example, Xinhua just announced that the world’s highest wind farm at 4,700 metres has gone into operation in Nagchu prefecture. The Chinese news agency says that the five turbines of the first phase have a capacity of 7.5 Megawatts. The completed project will have 33 wind turbines capable of putting out 49.5 Megawatts.

It is impressive, but there is another side to the coin, China (and particularly Tibet) is socially and democratically backward, especially where governance and freedom of speech are concerned.

Does Beijing realise that this undermines its ‘peaceful rise’?

Study Times, the magazine of the Chinese Communist Party Central Party School, recently discussed how to resolve the social conflicts repeatedly occurring in China. Many watchers believe that in the years to come, it will become Beijing’s problem no 1.

The Party School categorises the social conflicts into six types caused respectively by: differences in income; ‘misaligned’ policies, growing ‘social anxiety’, a lack of proper administrative control over the internet, abuse of government power, and incomplete reforms.

The author conveniently forgets to mention conflicts due to regional aspirations (in Tibet and Xinjiang for example), but he offers some suggestions for solving the other conflicts: “Relying more on the people to enhance social policies; establishing a comprehensive ‘social management system’; building a widespread ‘psychosocial intervention mechanism’ by setting positive social expectations; and improving Internet administration by acquiring the latest technologies.”

Today, the Communist Party does ‘rely’ on the ‘people’, while ‘improving internet administration’. However, this clearly means more and more policing of what the people say, think, dream, control over their aspirations, their genuine problems, all by using the ‘latest technologies’.

In the field of governance, India is decades ahead of China. China pretends to be a ‘great power’, but has no clue about the meaning of the UN Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights …Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Why should the Chinese state need to use ‘latest technologies’ to monitor the lives of its citizens? Can’t they have a political opinion of their choice? Further, is a Han equal to a Uyghur or a Tibetan in today’s China? To give an example, how many non-Han have occupied the post of Party Secretary in Tibet or Xinjiang since the so-called ‘Liberation’ in the 1950s? Nil!

How many senior officers in the People’s Liberation Army are from a ‘minority’? Nil again! And the list is long. During Nelson Mandela’s funeral, Xinhua headlined: “Mandela, Mao shared similarities”; it quoted some declarations supposedly made by the South African ambassador to China.

But while Mandela’s Nobel Peace Prize was the symbol of national reconciliation and a reward for the steps he took to lead his country towards democracy, Mao’s dictatorial tendencies translated into his infamous Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and earlier in the Great Leap Forward which was responsible for widespread starvation throughout China: the latest academic estimates of the consequences of Mao’s follies are put at some 45 million deaths.

Though the exact words of the South African Ambassador are not known, how can one compare the anti-apartheid leader with Mao, who colonized more than half of what is today the Peoples’ Republic of China and killed tens of millions of Chinese (and Tibetans).

In recent years, under China’s pressure, the Dalai Lama was twice denied a visa to South Africa; he could not attend the memorial for Mandela in South Africa. At the same time, The Global Times slammed the comparisons between the Chinese Nobel Peace laureate, Liu Xiabao and Nelson Mandela.

The South China Morning Post wrote: “In the wake of Mandela’s death last week, some Western commentators and Chinese social media users have criticised Beijing for praising the former South African leader while cracking down on its own dissidents, such as Liu [Xiaobo]. Some commentators have also noted similarities between the two Nobel Peace Prize winners, who were both jailed for their political activism, but the Global Times dismissed the correlation, saying the West is using Liu’s case to defy China’s judicial sovereignty and smear its human rights record.”

In an editorial, The Global Times praised Mandela’s “struggles, tolerance and efforts to bridge differences” while calling Liu “A Chinese prisoner who confronted authorities and was rejected by mainstream Chinese society.”

Though China tried its best to stop a meeting between Mandela and the Dalai Lama, the 2 Nobel Prize awardees met in 1996. After the encounter, the Dalai Lama made an interesting declaration: “I often meet with extraordinary and special people, spiritual leaders, royalty, Nobel laureates, presidents, world icons. For the most part, the reputation that precedes these people is somewhat exaggerated, creating an atmosphere of greatness around them. Each time I meet these people, I find that their person is in actuality not as large as their reputation. In preparing to meet with Nelson Mandela, I considered that his reputation was in fact the largest in the world. There is no-one greater living on the planet at this time. And in only his case, did I find the person larger than the reputation.”

Roads and railway lines are good and China should be praised for it, but the roads (and why not the train) to Democracy, Justice or Equality, are also important if China is one day to become a ‘great power’.

The Middle Kingdom is far, far behind in this field and its new leadership does not seem to have the will to remedy this. Beijing likes to create an atmosphere of greatness around China, but posterity will only remember China as a country where roads do not lead to freedom.

By Claude Arpi

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