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A debate in London last week asked a timely question: would democracy as we view it in the West work for China?

The discussion coincided with the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, in which leaders unveiled the 20 men and women who would govern the country for the next decade, and the US election that chose a president for the next four years. 

For the West, a central idea of the last century has been that democracy is the only viable form of governance. To paraphrase Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, who wrote History As The Story Of Liberty, we seem to believe as civilisations develop they move towards the rights we in the West enjoy today. The assumption is that democracy and freedom go hand-in-hand and, once installed, leave us free to get on with serious human endeavours, such as getting to the moon and inventing the microwaveable panini.

However, the world’s coming superpower, China, the nation most likely to dominate the next century, believe that’s a crock of shit – democracy that is, not the panini. 

The scripted solemnity of last Thursday’s Communist Party unveiling (above) was in stark contrast to the worldwide media frenzy surrounding the American presidential race, which returned Barack Obama for a second term.

The hope that China will one day come around on the whole democracy thing was recently dubbed by Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff “a cliché of optimistic Western discourse”. China’s ruling elite share MIT economist Yasheng Huang’s view that democracy is a hindrance to growth. This viewpoint comes at a time when most commentators are predicting China’s economy will overtake the long-dominant US as the biggest in the world – between 2018 and 2020 is the window given – and birth the Chinese-led century.

When the author Martin Amis said, “Anti-Americans in Europe should use their imagination to think what its going to be like when China, a statist authoritarian power, is imposing its values on the world,” he distilled either a belief, a fear or an ignorance – depending on who you talk to – in the West of China, its growing economic might and maybe even its perceived imperialist tendencies.

These thoughts were far from assuaged at Intelligence Squared’s debate last Wednesday at the Emmanuel Centre, where experts argued on the topic, Western Liberal Democracy Would Be Wrong For China. 


Is China destined for democracy? Intelligence Squared debate challenges the West's future dominance
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