Thursday, March 10, 2016

Asians have nothing to cheer in the dysfunctional politics of America and Europe

FOR many in Asia, resentful of the constant lecturing about the superiority, nay, the historical inevitability, of Western forms of government, it must seem like vindication. The European Union, which once held itself up as a model of regional integration and shared sovereignty, faces stagnation, uncontrollable migration, the rise of xenophobic political movements and a British referendum on whether to leave the union. As for America, its government is often gridlocked thanks to partisan animosity, while the campaign for November’s presidential election has plumbed depths of personal abuse, mendacity and barely disguised racism and sexism.

Small wonder that a commentary published by China’s official news agency to celebrate the current sessions of that country’s toothless parliament and its gumless consultative body should lament that “many Western countries are split by elitism and populism”, smirking that “China’s unique ‘check and balance’ system could teach them a thing or two.”

Other Chinese commentators have taken wry pleasure in the discomfort within America’s political establishment over the emergence of Donald Trump, a self-promoting tycoon with flexible but mostly obnoxious ideas, as the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination. If this is what Western democracy produces, the logic runs, maybe China’s illiberal form of self-proclaimed meritocracy is not so bad. Or conversely: what is wrong with Donald Trump? Curiously, he seems to have many fans in China’s cordoned-off sector of cyberspace. Writing in the Diplomat, an online journal, Dingding Chen of the University of Macau reports that many Chinese netizens like his brash, outsider image and his questioning of America’s military alliances with Japan and South Korea. Some even think that, as a dealmaker, China might negotiate with him more easily than with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, who has a habit of talking about human rights (as long ago as 1995 she riled her hosts with a fiery speech at a UN women’s conference in Beijing). China also blames her for, as secretary of state, firmly asserting America’s interest in the disputed South China Sea in 2010.  

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