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On the doorstep of democracy

Alan Eder
By Alan Eder
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
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The biggest project in democracy in the coming years will not come from our adventure in the Middle East, but rather, the embryonic journey now beginning in China.

There, we have reasons to believe that it will succeed, with the reasons being twofold: changes in the shape of dissent in Chinese society and changes in economic policy.

On Oct. 19, the Chinese government issued its first report on economic development and building democracy, with the ironic key to success being the Communist Party.

But while the report is mostly "self-congratulatory," according to The New York Times, the Communist Party may be the unintentional steward of a democratic transition.

While the party intends to maintain a grip on its political system, China is gradually progressing toward a more egalitarian society with a more permissive attitude toward dissent.

According to Zhou Yongkang, China's most senior police official, there were about 74,000 protests last year, involving more than 3.7 million people. But crackdowns such as Tianammen Square have not occurred, and this sheer number of protests is unprecedented.

In this regard, China appears more like a normal developing country. As small-scale protests become more common, protest in general may become more tolerated by the government. If dissent is an indicator of plurality, the desire for change, and ultimately democracy, then the Chinese people are on the right path.

Another positive outcome is China's unprecedented rise in wealth in recent years.

According to the World Bank, China has lifted 400 million of its citizens out of poverty in the past 25 years. And just this year, China's economy has grown by 9.4 percent, with a total gross domestic product of $1.3 trillion and trade surplus of $68.3 billion.

These successes could not have come without China's embracement of market-based reforms. Indeed, the pendulum of capitalism has started to swing, and it will be hard-pressed to stop; China has received a generous taste of prosperity, and it likes it and wants more.

The pendulum of capitalism has started to swing, and it will be hard pressed to stop.

Since its induction into the World Trade Organization and normalized trade relations with the U.S., former President Clinton's dreams of lucrative trade deals and investment have actually furthered economic reform in China.

But despite these outcomes, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld expressed concern last week over China's growing missile capacity and defense budget. And on Oct. 19, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, now the director of the World Bank, stressed the need for further political rights.

Why all the fuss? Many Americans are concerned - if not frightened - about China's growing power and economic prosperity. After all, for all intents and purposes, it is the second-most powerful nation-state in the world.

But China is pursuing a policy of economic modernization and openness, and Americans should be excited. China is on the doorstep of democracy, and we should be inspired and hopeful, because it's a well-regarded fact that democracies do not go to war with other democracies.

Unquestionably, China's very economic prosperity and its willingness to make capitalist reforms are the most convincing indicators of its path to democracy.

With economic prosperity, true democratic reform can take place. According to Fareed Zakaria, author of "The Future of Freedom," a liberal economic order is the ultimate pretext for democracy. Here, changes in the economic realm must come before changes in the political realm.

An open economy eventually encourages an open political system, thus the Communist Party must continue to implement reform while slowly granting more political license.

China has many inner challenges left to face: free press issues, a growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor, human rights violations and the bird flu epidemic.

And thorny issues remain with the U.S., such as Taiwan, Tibet and trade deficits, but the American people should be encouraged with China's progress, and dare I say, optimistic.

A democratic China may exceed current expectations, but it is not out of the question. A dream of direct elections, political parties, and political rights is on the horizon. Capitalism has the power to transform human societies, and this is precisely what is taking place in the Orient.

Alan Eder is a senior majoring in political science and Spanish and will be attending the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He can be reached at

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