An Old Etonian in China

Friends, remember what you were doing yesterday, for it will go down in history as the day of the second, greater, Chinese Revolution. For yesterday was the day that David Cameron, British Prime Minister and all-round good guy, told China a few home truths about democracy and the rule of law. And yesterday was the day that China’s leaders, who for so long have been presiding over an unprecedentedly successful economic modernisation programme and yet have seen fit not to introduce even the slightest element of popular representation, finally saw the error of their ways.

Pity the poor students who died in Tiananmen Square in 1989, for their efforts were wasted. The only thing standing between China and democracy, it turns out, was a good old fashioned hectoring from a pompous public school prat.

And, in the one-party state of China, he talked up the incomparable benefits of Britain’s current two-party government. Apparently it isn’t the result of all three parties being so underwhelming that voters didn’t really warm to any of them, but a wonderful guarantor of good government, as Reuters reported:

Cameron said Britain had “two different political parties — the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – with different histories and political philosophies, working together for the good of our country.”

He noted that he had to account for his actions on a weekly basis in prime minister’s questions in parliament, and that the government was always subject to the rule of law.

“These are constraints on the government, and at times they can be frustrating when the courts take a view with which the government differs,” the prime minister said.

“But ultimately we believe that they make our government better and our country stronger.” He said free media was important despite the criticism and discomfort it sometimes brought the government.

No doubt the scales fell from the Chinese Communist Party’s eyes, and its officials rushed to sign a power-sharing agreement with a much smaller and more insipid party, which would contradict and embarrass it. And no doubt Xinhua was immediately instructed to set up intrusive, gossip-filled tabloids exactly like Britain’s.

And what a fantastic model for China, and indeed all of us, Britain’s Coalition is proving to be. What a wonderful investment in a bright future was its decision to treble university fees, which caused massive riots in central London this week. And what a foresighted and generous move to slash 500,000 – that’s right, half a millionpublic sector jobs in a bid to improve Britain’s economy by dramatically increasing its unemployment. No wonder, as the leader of such a wonderfully successful country, he has time to travel elsewhere to teach Freedom And Democracy 101.

Well okay – he was actually in Beijing with cap in hand, trying to cut a trade deal to bail out his basket case of an economy. And it’s always best to criticise someone when you need their help, which is why I plan to subject my bank manager to a lengthy critique of his dress sense when I next apply for a mortgage. Sure, I’ll be desperate for his help, but that shouldn’t stop me dropping a few truth bombs about his tie, should it? After all, I come from a country where we have free speech.

There’s democracy, of course – why, the British invented it! Which is why their system retains a monarch who still owns vast swathes of the countryside and has a lavish lifestyle funded by the public purse, and whose heir regularly tries to interfere with the workings of government. Having short-sightedly disposed of its own emperor, China unfortunately can’t transform itself into a constitutional monarchy like Britain’s, but its class of rich communist cadres who’ve relentlessly exploited those below them to further their wealth and privilege could very well form the basis of a House of Lords.

And let’s not forget that Britain was so kind as to set up a democratic state right there in China, in the shape of Hong Kong, and then give the whole place back to China by way of example. Of course, its Legislative Council was only made popularly elected in 1995, and the Governor retained unfettered executive power right up until the end in 1997. But nevertheless, democracy is a right everyone should enjoy, unless they’re Chinese and lucky enough to be governed by a Briton.

In fact, here’s an idea. Given China’s great wealth and Britain’s economic malaise, why doesn’t Cameron serve as a kind of permanent tutor to the Chinese Government, charging billions of dollars for the wonderful advice he currently gives them for free?

His next lesson should be on how China should liberalise its state-owned financial institutions so that, unfettered by regulation, they can ruin China’s economy’s just like the UK’s banks ruined Britain’s, to the point where the government had to nationalise several of them. Then, China could end up adopting the West’s free-market ideology just as successfully as Russia has. Oh, the things David Cameron could teach the Chinese!

Of course, I agree with much of what David Cameron said. Of course, it would be wonderful if China had democratic government, a free press and the rule of law. Of course, China’s human rights record bothers me, and it’s a disgrace that its dissenters are routinely locked up, and of course I dearly hope that things will change as the country continues to develop.

But if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make the current Chinese government dig in its heels and refuse to consider even the slightest hint of liberalisation, it’s lectures from Western leaders. Especially ones whose own countries are in such disarray that they’ve shown up to beg for a trade deal. What David Cameron did yesterday was grandstanding for the folks back home. And in the unlikely event that his remarks are reported anywhere in the Chinese media, the readers will probably resent his interference rather than embracing the substance of what he had to say.

Many nations in the Asia-Pacific have successfully transitioned from authoritarianism to Western-style democracy in the past century. Several of them, like India, had to throw off British rule to do so. But not one of them made that difficult but beneficial transition because a British Prime Minister told them it was a jolly good idea.

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