What China Wills is Certainly not Democracy

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Monday October 20, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

"Where there is a will, there is a way" is an age-old saying. Put it more directly and it becomes, "He who wills the end, wills the way." This is a maxim that most accept, and it is also one that can apply not only to individuals but to nations as well. With this in mind then the United Kingdom (UK) and China have recently provided two interesting and contrasting examples of how such national will, national ends and the national way can interplay and how they differ.

How is this so? First, in the past decade both countries expressed a similar will to host the Olympics, an international event the hosting of which is not without risk. Both nonetheless saw benefits, of staging the games - whether they were prestige, national accomplishment or even potential profit - and for both countries these benefits obviously outweighed the costs and risks involved. In effect, both China and the UK expressed their national will to enter this competition to host the Games, which each went on to win and subsequently find its own way to make the event a success.

On July 13, 2001, China won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing; China beat out Canada, France, Turkey and Japan over two rounds of voting. Four years later, the UK followed suit and on July 6, 2005, it won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics in London. The UK beat out France, Russia, Spain and the United States over four rounds of voting. Both winners then faced the subsequent time frame given to all host nations. They had seven years to pull it off.

China perhaps had the harder challenge of the two after winning its bid. It had never hosted an Olympics before while the UK had the experience of having hosted two previous Games, though these were in the distant past (1908 and 1948).

China also faced greater challenges of infrastructure development as well as constructing suitable sporting facilities. Nonetheless, China answered the call and allocated a budget, estimated to be at least US$ 40 billion dollars to guarantee its success. The UK was luckier and came through with a lesser budget of approximately US$ 18 billion to US$ 20 billion.

Where there is a will, there is a way and here both host cities and their corresponding countries did what was necessary to host the competition. London and Beijing each hosted over 200 National Olympic Committees representing countries from all over the world and utilized a variety of venues.

Despite a few minor glitches and complaints from different circles, both nations essentially "pulled it off." And they did so within the required seven-year time frame.

Now switch to a different matter involving political will and goals and the results change.

The UK faced a challenge in 2011 when the Scottish Nationalist Party won a majority vote in the Scottish Parliament. A major plank in the party's platform was that they would push for a referendum vote on Scottish independence. Scottish First Minister and party leader Alex Salmond wasted no time in pressing this issue.

British Prime Minister David Cameron responded to this challenge even though it threatened to split up the UK. As a course of action, Cameron decided to play hardball in agreeing with Salmond to hold the vote.

Under the agreement, the referendum would be a simple "yes or no" vote; there would be no third "devo max" choice, which could give Scotland fiscal autonomy while staying within the UK. It would be an all or nothing vote by which Scots would choose to stay in the Union with a "yes" or "no."

This agreement was signed in October 2012 and carried the requirement that the vote be accomplished within two years. An allowance to lower the voting age to 16 was granted Scotland for the vote.

As the deadline drew near, Cameron's hardball tactics seemed to backfiring. Polls indicated growing support for the "yes" vote and commentators warned that Cameron could go down in history as the prime minister who lost Scotland. Despite such worries, Cameron held true to his promise and the agreement; he insisted only that the vote be "legal, fair and decisive."

He had willed the end and therefore he chose to continue willing the way.

Ultimately, the referendum was legal fair and decisive. Scotland voted 55.3 per cent "No" to 44.7 per cent "Yes." Believing in democracy, the UK had risked a split and met the challenge of division head on.

Turn now to China where one finds a different promise, a different vote and a different ruling party.

In 1997, when China took over Hong Kong from the UK, it promised the Hong Kongers the right to elect their leaders in twenty years.

The vote that was promised was one for independence or one to leave China. It was a simple vote whereby Hong Kongers could elect the leaders who would both rule and represent them in Beijing. Hong Kong was not even to be given a devo max option; it was simple seeking a democratic right to choose its leaders.

After 17 years, the most that China has conceded to the people of Hong Kong on this past promise is that the people could elect a leader from three people pre-selected by Beijing.

For Hong Kong, the question of the Chinese Communist Party's national will quickly became obvious as did the contrast with its will to host the Olympics. If China can not only win an Olympics bid but also pull it off in seven years, why then can it not find a way to set up a simple voting system for Hong Kong in 20 years?

It is not as if elections have never been held in Hong Kong nor is it the case that voting is too complicated for Hong Kongers. There is no great cost. There is no great risk unless, oh yes, unless one would consider that the whiff of democracy would be too great a risk for the politburo that rules China and claims to honor Sun Yat-sen's "Three Principles of the People," representing government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Where there is a will, there is a way. One who wills the end wills the way. Obviously, the end that the rulers of China are willing to give is at odds with its previous promises and any sense of democracy. ***

*** Footnote: By 2017, Hong Kong would be no where near having the democracy that in 1997, it was promised that it would have in twenty years.