Saturday, 14 July 2007

Technocracy is not Democracy - A Response to Cui Shixin

Cui Shixin is a senior editor of Remin Ribao (The People Daily in English), the main mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (equivalent to "Pravda" in Chinese terms). Cui has made a bit of a song and dance about the appointment of Chen Zhu, as Minister of Health. Chen apparently has no party affiliation and is the second Minister "elected" this year who is not a member of the Chinese Communist Party.

The previous appointment was Wan Gang who was appointed Minister of Science and Technology. Wan is a member of the China Party for Public Interest (Zhongguo Zhi Gong Dang) and was the first non-Communist Minister since the 1970s. One of the "8 Concubines" the non-Communist Parties of China are about as effective a political opposition as the non-Communist Parties were in the former East Germany. The last time any of the so-called "democratic" parties considered setting up as a political opposition to the Communists was in the mid-90s and then, they did not follow through.

Cui seems to be suggesting in the typically round about way that Chinese Communists tend to discuss political issues that this somehow shows the Chinese Communist Party's commitment to the development of "socialist democratic" politics. Hmm....

Apart from "socialist democratic" politics being an oxymoron, the reality is that China is at best in transition from authoritarianism towards some form of technocracy. Clearly the Chinese Communist Party has had a dismal record in it's handling of a number of major health issues. It's performance around SARS was pathetic whilst I lived in China and resulted in travel in much of China being effectively shut down for a few months. Their handling of bird 'flu wasn't much better. China has failed to inspire confidence in the way it has continually sought to cover up what happens. The factors leading to this are two fold. They are the "Tiangao, huangdi yuan" syndrome, where local government officials deliberately keep national government officials in the dark for reasons of personal power and a desire to avoid interference from Beijing. The second relates to the nature of the Communist Party itself and it's "knowledge is power" paradigm. The Communist Party would often like to pretend that China is perfect sometimes and this means a desire not to lose face on the international stage. Having said that, I suspect that sometimes Beijing has less idea what is going on on the ground than the international media at times.

Quite frankly, in the light of the Chinese Communist Party's dismal health record it was essential for social stability that they turned to a non-Communist to try to rebuild trust amongst the international community.

However, Cui Xiansheng, let us be clear, technocratic appointments are still no substitute for genuine democracy. Please try not to insult the intelligence of the international community by pretending otherwise.

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