Is Democracy On The Wane? – OpEd


The Russian invasion of Ukraine coupled with Chinese muscle flexing comparable to a superior Power demonstrating the capacity of illiberalism to deliver goods to the needy more quickly than the democratic countries can do is an eye opener. Illiberal regimes can do because for example Xi Jin Ping’s Communist Party of China that controls every facet of Chinese life is totally different from democracies where the peoples’ consent has to be taken. The recent elections in the US Congress and Senate is a shinning example where House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan could not be stopped by President Biden as Xi-Jin-Ping’s illiberal regime could not be convinced that Nancy Pelosi because the House and the Senate and the Presidency had their own rules beyond which they cannot operate. Ukraine and Taiwan have cemented relations between Russia and China which did not exist before. 


Democracy has travelled a long path. Aristotle’s Athens was the first known to have practiced democracy. In reality, Athens was not a true democracy as women were not included nor were foreigners, slaves or freed slaves. Also, according to the rules of citizenship both parents must have been Athenian citizens for a person to qualify to take part in the Assembly. The democracy therefore, was only a very small minority of the people living in Athens.

It was, however, the closest any country had come to establishing a democratic society at this time ( Pravesh Agarwal– The Growth of the Concept of Democracy: An Analysis  November 16-2014). In his long treatise Agarwar cites L.R.Lowell, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Venn Dicey,  was a British  jurist and constitutional theorist. He is most widely known as the author of Introduction to the study of the law of the Constitution ( Wikipedia) (1885). The principles he  expounded are considered part of the uncodified British Constitution.He became Professor  at Oxford and a leading constitutional scholar of his day. Both Dicey  and Lord Bryce  emphasized why democracy should remain the best possible method of governance. Skipping the evolution of democracy through the ages its relevance has surfaced due to recent events that have shaken the world in many ways. Can the world ignore the Russo-China entente cordiale being shown around as more efficient than democratic system which takes time to deliver goods to the needy.


 This authoritarian system totally ignores that in democracy the will of the people is taken into consideration, and the dictates of the Communist Party Of China(CCP) taking China as an example, is not final. While President Putin has some critics at home and he has to pacify the inner coterie of his supporters Xi Jin-Ping has already got rid of the most literate group of people Deng Xiaoping had as his closest advisors and Xi Jin-Ping is already called by his critics as “Emperor” of China.”

World Press Review in a comparison between the two leaders writes  “ Xiang Jemin’s his political career included many consequential milestones that shaped the relationship between China and the United States, as well as international affairs more broadly. In addition to overseeing a period of vast economic growth, Jiang presided over a China that opened up to the world, including the peaceful handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom in 1997 and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization four years later. Relations between Washington and Beijing also took a dramatic turn during the Jiang era. In particular, 1999 was a pivotal year for China’s engagement on the world stage as well as for the kind of contemporary, bombastic nationalism that is now commonplace in domestic affairs.

That year, US bombers carrying out NATO air strikes against the Yugoslav military in response to Belgrade’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.   Three Chinese journalists were killed in the strike, which drew outrage from Beijing. Jiang’s response to the bombing and the sense of betrayal and alienation felt by Chinese observers across the political spectrum still reverberate, manifesting themselves in the more hawkish forms of Chinese nationalism on display today. The Jiang era, as well as that of his successor, Hu Jintao, might have been characterized by China’s entry into the WTO, a consolidation of the economic partnership between the U.S. and China.  

But it is important to remember that this openness occurred simultaneously with the crystallization of China as a society that asserts its sovereignty. And Jiang was a central architect of that crystallization. The Jiang era is also seen as having accelerated the sweeping trend toward the globalization of China’s economy. Beijing’s entry into the WTO marked its deepened commitment to the “socialism with Chinese characteristics” that has defined its economic framework to this day But the liberalization on display in the economic realm did not extend to security matters.

Fears of containment by the U.S. and the emergence of a new Cold War was already on display among hardliners like Liu Mingfu, a retired PLA officer and commentator who once described the 1999 bombing of Chinese Embassy in Belgrade as “totally intentional” and “a purposeful, planned bombing, rather than an accident.” Jiang, too, used muscular language to describe China’s engagement on the world stage. He once boasted of quashing “farcical” U.S. plans at the United Nations, dismissing Washington’s use of the organization to criticize Beijing’s human rights record as a pretext for isolating China diplomatically. 


The term “wolf warrior,” referring to the aggressive style of public diplomacy increasingly favored today by Chinese diplomats, gained currency in the years after Jiang left power, but the colorful language that regularly accompanies their sharp-elbowed diplomatic tactics had its roots in the Jiang era. When Jiang stepped down from leadership of the CCP in 2002, Xi Jinping had not yet reached the top echelon of the party’s hierarchy.

But there is no doubt that Xi and his cohorts were significantly influenced by the nationalistic rhetoric and framing of an undefeatable China that was commonplace during the Jiang era. At a time when Xi constantly calls for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and people, the juxtaposition of China with the U.S. is more ideologically charged than ever.” It is almost axiomatic that when global powers start to become powerful they start to flex their muscle as has been the case with Chinese military intrusion in South China Sea parts of which is also claimed by Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia and Taiwan. 

Importance of South China Sea 

South Sea China is a very  significant body of water in a geopolitical sense. The sea has historically been an important trade route between China, southeast Asia, and going to India and the west. Today it is the second most used sea lane in the world, while in terms of world annual merchant fleet tonnage, over 50% passes through the Strait of Malacca and other straits.  Over 1.6 million 10 million barrels of crude oil a day are shipped through the Strait of Malacca.

On many occasions China has militarily intruded into the area and has built artificial islands. Protests by the involved countries  and the Western powers have been ignored. In 2013, the Philippines raised the dispute with China to the PCA(Permanent Court Of Arbitration), saying China’s claims violated Philippines’ sovereignty under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Chinese claims over 90 percent of the South China Sea area are illegitimate and under UNCLOS, China is intruding into the Philippines’ sovereign waters.   China out rightly rejected the ruling. China prefers bilateral negotiations with the other parties. But many of its neighbors argue that China’s relative size and clout give it an unfair advantage.  


Indian analyst Amitabh Matto referring to Harvard political scientist Graham Allison’s reference to Thucydides Trap “captured the essence of the challenge posed to the United States by a rising China. The study revealed that over the past 500 years, in 12 out of 16 cases ‘in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power’, the result was war. ‘When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part of not just the challenger but also the challenged.’

For Allison, the defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’ Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago.8 While the debate on the dilemmas posed by a rising China predated Allison’s study, the responses can be slotted along familiar Manichean lines of ‘accommodation’ by doves or ‘containment’ by hawks9—or, for Alastair Iain Johnston, ‘skeptics’ versus ‘engagers’”. Allison in his book Destined for War explains why Thucydides’s Trap is the best lens for understanding U.S.-China relations in the twenty-first century.

Through uncanny historical parallels and war scenarios, he shows how close we are to the unthinkable. Yet, stressing that war is not inevitable, Allison also reveals how clashing powers have kept the peace in the past — and what painful steps the United States and China must take to avoid disaster today. Unfortunately for the world Xi-jinPing’s inexperience of how the US and then USSR had handled the Cold War, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the US acceptance of Russian hegemony of East Germany and now coupled with Ukraine conflict makes Allison book an important guideline for the everyone. In this melee of conflicts there are numerous incidents of India-Pakistan and India-China border disputes. 


The border between China and India is disputed at multiple locations. “There is “no publicly available map depicting the Indian version of the LAC,” and the Survey of India maps are the only evidence of the official border for India. The Chinese version of the LAC mostly consists of claims in the Ladakh region, but China also claims Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India. Since the 1980s, there have been over 50 rounds of talks between the two countries related to these border issues. Only 1 to 2 percent of border incidents between 2010 and 2014 had received any form of media coverage. 

In 2019, India reported over 660 LAC violations and 108 aerial violations by the People’s Liberation Army which were significantly higher than the number of incidents in 2018. Despite the disputes, skirmishes, and standoffs, no incidence of gunshots being fired had been reported between the two countries along the border for over 50 years, due an agreement by both sides that guns were not to be used; however, this changed on 7 September, when warning shots were fired. During Xi Jinping ‘s visit to New Delhi in September 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the boundary question and urged his counterpart for a solution. 

Since Modi became Prime Minister in 2014 until the 2020 standoff, Modi and Xi met 18 times, including those on the sidelines of summits and five visits to China.[88] However, in 2017, China and India were involved in a major standoff in Doklam that lasted for few months.  On 3 January 2018, Xi Jinping, as Chairman of the Central Military Commission, issued the first Training Mobilization Order. This was the first time that military training instructions had been given directly by the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Following this, PLA forces have been mobilizing training on the basis of the order. Improving combat readiness is now a strategic mission for the Chinese military … China can’t copy the US’ measure to improve combat capability through actual combat overseas since our national defense policy is defensive rather than offensive. Therefore, military training becomes extremely important for China.” (wikipedia).  China has since increased its military presence in the Tibetan Plateau. China has also been increasing its footprint with India’s neighbors – Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan to arrest India having a monopoly in the region, China is now posing a direct challenge to New Delhi’s influence in South Asia. Inia-Pakistan conflicts came to the fore ever since the British left the sub-continent in 1947. Pakistan had never a democracy as opposed to Indian practice of democracy since independence from the British. 


In recent time for the first time in Pakistan’s history Prime Minister Imran Khan was deposed by the Parliament reportedly at the behest of the army. Consequent was the appointment of General Syed Asif Munir who was disliked by Imran Khan who dismissed him from the post of Director General of Forces Intelligence. General Syed Asif Munir’s return as Army Chief does not necessarily mean a peaceful Pakistan. On the contrary Imran Khan’s determination to return to power through the next election is a distinct possibility if Punjab Assembly elections is any indication where Prime Minister Shabaj Shari’s Pakistan Peoples Party got only a few seats. One can only hope that Pakistan will see a peaceful transfer of power after the next elections  if the elections are allowed to be held at all.

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

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