THE NEOLIBERAL PROBLEM WITH CHINA

by Will Durant

“In China, such change over the past three decades has been informed by three principles: the lower the level of government, the more democratic the political system; the optimal space for experimentation with new practices and institutions is in between the lowest and highest levels of government; and the higher the level of government, the more meritocratic the political system.”

That was Daniel A. Bell writing in The Atlantic last year about the Chinese ‘model’. This kind of thinking is everything that I loathe about neoliberalism. We’re presented with the idea that economists like Alan Greenspan and Mark Carney are these supreme experts who are just tinkering for the common good. Forget their past careers in multi-national corporations, they’re for the people. You know, like how the ‘Chicago Boys’ were simply working for the people of Chile. Just like the experts in the ol’ PRC right now. It’s not like their advice, enforced by the state, is unreliable or anything. So who needs the popular vote when you can have a few geniuses tinkering the system?

I fear that in accepting the neoliberal view, we’re giving up the democratic dream and legitimizing its nightmare: the People’s Republic of China.

Of course, suggesting such a thing has met great resistance, but we are at the point now where it appears in political discourse as a plausible idea. Why does Donald Trump mention China so much? He’s part of the effort in Europe and the US of normalising anti-democracy discourse. Now, I know our ‘democracy’ is hardly a product of the people. We’ve only had a total of three parties in power in the last century, while most of the current cabinet come from the same university, if not the same boarding school. But once upon a time we did have people from working backgrounds in parliament, and our parties were distinguishable. It is possible to have a vote represented truly by the people. I fear that in accepting the neoliberal view, we’re giving up the democratic dream and legitimizing its nightmare: the People’s Republic of China.

28-Civic-Party-Reuters

( Protesters with portraits of Lee Bo and Gui Minhai © Reuters )

Which is why need to talk about Hong Kong. Over the past two months, five booksellers and Hong Kong residents dealing in literature critical of the PRC have gone missing. It has now surfaced that this disappearance was involved in an operation of Chinese authorities. One of these booksellers is British passport holder Lee Bo, confirmed by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to have been “involuntarily removed to the mainland without any due process under Hong Kong SAR law.” – though Hammond’s acknowledgement came a whole month after the Hong Kong government had already declared Lee’s situation.

So where’s the condemnation, the protest from Messrs Cameron and Osborne? Oh, that’s right, I forgot, there’s no problem. We’re in a “golden era” of trade and mutual interest with the PRC. What’s there to complain about? Fundamental rights on the one hand, and smart, long-term and definitely reliable economic decisions on the other. Which one do we really need?

 

Featured image © Reuters

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