Thursday, May 22, 2008

Openness -- Chinese style

Reports from the media all over the world are trying to show that there is a new spirit of openness in China after the recent devastating earthquake. Journalists were not prevented from reporting first hand, (some) criticism of the relief effort was allowed (it apparently helped if their reports showed Prime Minister Wen Jiabao actively helping with the relief work), select foreign journalists were allowed in....get the idea? Nicolas Kristof, the Op-Ed columnist of the New York Times who has been following the developments has a report today about this new spirit of openness. The evidence is apparently mixed but one phrase caught my eye -- China’s police announced that they had punished 17 earthquake “rumor-mongers” last week, with penalties of up to 15 days in jail. Jee-Whiz-Bang-Wow! China is really opening up. I am sure by this time next year, we are going to see full-fledged multi party democracy in the Mainland.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

If I remember right, Kristof's wife is Chinese. He generally takes a sympathetic view of China, but he may be right that the government is evolving to be less repressive. It will take a while. India, while it has been a democracy for 61 years, is still repressive in many ways though we English-speaking urban types don't always notice it. Incidentally, mischievous rumour-mongers could end up in jail in any country (depending on what rumour they are monging).

Rahul Basu said...

I wouldn't call our democracy repressive by any yardstick. Yes, we can be as intolerant as the next person (or country), but when something like that happens, there are many checks and balances -- the courts, and in fact civil society, a number of human rights organisations who do excellent work. Witness, most recently, the Binayak Sen case -- he has not been released but I believe the movement for his release will eventually have some effect -- it at least puts some pressure on the Government, and more important, people have recourse to many avenues to right a wrong. I doubt that in China you could file a case against the Government asking it to release the rumour-mongers.

It's one thing to accept that our democracy has warts - its another (which seems fashionable nowadays)
to go around breast-beating about how we are as bad as the rest, if not worse, Pankaj Mishra style.

I, for one, do not think that our society and governance is as bad as China's, even though they are clearly better at pushing through developmental activity.

And yes, Kristof's wife is indeed Chinese, which is why I don't take it seriously when he compares India unfavourably with China.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I am not suggesting that we are anywhere near as bad as China. That's a strawman argument and I'm surprised you make it. And I did not call our democracy repressive. I said India (I meant the society and systems) is repressive in many ways.

Binayak Sen happens to be a somewhat-celebrated case, but there are prisoners who have been in jail for a decade or more without being tried.

Police freely make "preventive arrests" when trouble is anticipated, and no warrant is required for it.

Laws like POTA existed until 2004. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act still exists and applies in parts of the country we generally prefer not to think about. These are some of the consequences.

People like you and I have recourse to many avenues to right a wrong. But even you and I will find it very hard, and will likely have to fight for years. For 99% of the country there is no such option.

I find plenty to criticise in China, but I find entirely credible the idea that it is better today than 10 years ago, and will be even better 10 years from now.

AMOK said...

A penetrating insight. The man Kristof, all his views are ascribed to his wife being Chinese. A brilliant deduction, which I think should be extended to others in this and various other blogs, columns etc. to explain all.

It is possible though that K knows more about China. By the way, as we all know and love, the USA is the most open, free and rumour-mongerless nation in the world. Yet they have
media manipulation
, as everywhere. China has made some progress as trade ties open up the clogged connections with the world.

Rahul Basu said...

As it happens, we are not idiots - or at least not complete idiots.

Over the years Kristof has been doing this comparison, dressing it up by saying that he was trying to decide whether his children are better off learning Mandarin or Hindi. After much verbiage, he decides with much fanfare that he will ask them to learn Mandarin. Yes, sure...a bit disingenuous, isn't it to suggest that his children are learning Mandarin purely because that is going to be the language of the future (which anyway neither he nor I nor anyone one with an ounce of sense believes..)

I am sure Kristof is well informed - he after all visits all these parts of the world and reports first hand from there (including dangerous places like Darfur). That does not mean that there cannot be that occasional spin...

AMOK said...

Sir Basu, you have the utmost degree of respect from this humble blogger, nay, humble bloggerino, short of calling you Sir Rahul. Kindling your ire was not the desire. Not complete idiots at all. Indeed Mr. Kristof may be somewhat influenced by his 3rd generation Chinese-American, Ivy League educated, wealthy, Goldman-Sachs-ian spouse.

One of the reasons cited for China lagging behind in the software outsourcing business is the lack of English language skills. We will agree with Kristof regarding the language of the future when US managers start learning Mandarin en masse.

Respectfully submitted to your scintillating blog.

Anant said...

Rahul: tsk, tsk. Should not come down so hard on your commentators. What then would be the difference between you and the esteemed members of the loony left, who you love so much, who come down hard on anyone and everyone who disagrees with them?

Rahul Basu said...

'loony left' -- not referring to your esteemed self, are you?

Anant said...

Somethings are best left unsaid?!