As the Chinese dictatorship prepares to re-shuffle its top leadership in 2012, the Chinese people are debating the need to recognize “universal values,” which in China are code words for democracy and freedom.
The dictatorship is so sensitive to “universal values” that its paid defenders expressed outrage when a Guangdong newspaper in 2008 cleverly worked the words into an article praising the government’s response to the Sichuan earthquake.
The government “honored its commitments to its own people and to the world with respect to universal values,” Southern Weekend, the newspaper, reported.
Repeated theme. This year, the phrase is reappearing more frequently. It already figured prominently in the public address of a Chinese banker and in a President Obama speech to the United Nations.
On July 19, Qin Xia, retiring chairman of the state-owned China Merchants Bank, told the graduating class of a top Chinese business school they should abandon the old politics and promote “universal values” like democracy and freedom.
The Economist reports that Qin said:
“Universal values tell us that government serves the people, that assets belong to the public and that urbanisation is for the sake of people’s happiness.”
Supporters of the “China model,” he added, believe the opposite: that people should obey the government, the state should control assets and the interests of individuals are subordinate to those of local development.
Emphasis on individual. Chinese hardliners argue against democracy by pointing to China’s two or three decades of economic expansion and claiming that the democratic West’s current weakness is the result of an emphasis on individual rights and freedom.
Liberals, however, note that China’s boom is directly related to the expansion of individual economic freedom. Embracing individual political freedom and the other “universal values” would only fuel further progress, they say.
So against this background, it was intriguing that, when President Obama went to the United Nations last week and reaffirmed America’s dedication to democracy and liberty, he slipped in the words “universal values.”
The right path. Obama didn’t mention China, but he said:
The idea is a simple one -- that freedom, justice and peace for the world must begin with freedom, justice, and peace in the lives of individual human beings. And for the United States, this is a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity. As Robert Kennedy said, “the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit.” So we stand up for universal values because it’s the right thing to do. …
As I said last year, each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its own people. Yet experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty; that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments. To put it simply, democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens.
Oppressors' keys. The message of freedom is resonating in China. Unfortunately, the oppressors themselves will have to decide whether to free the oppressed. The Communist regime’s term limits give the Chinese some hope, but there’s no guarantee a new set of rulers will smile on “universal values.”
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