Home / Articles / Democracy and Its Limits in Greater China: A Conference Report
Democracy’s Limits and Prospects in the P.R.C.
The possible sprouts of democracy and the prospects for democratization in the People’s Republic of China were the principal focus for many of the conference’s participants, who approached these questions from diverse perspectives. Szu-chien Hsu assessed the development of village and township elections in rural China, concluding that there has been significant expansion of contestation for positions at the most local levels in the Chinese countryside but very little progress toward participatory democracy. While there were potentially auspicious developments in the nearly twenty years of elections at the village committee level, the more recent advent of elections for village Party chiefs, and a handful of experiments with elections for the heads of townships (the supra-village unit which is also the most basic unit of formal government), they did not augur the advent of institutionalized democracy in China or a clear pathway to it. As Hsu, commentator Minxin Pei and other participants saw it, the impetus toward greater democracy has come primarily from below. It has arisen from peasants’ desires and demands for greater input and accountability, and it has emerged under the protection of lower and middle level officials. On this view, the central leadership’s position has been relatively conservative. It has insisted on a high degree of party control of electoral processes that is inconsistent with the introduction of more truly democratic elements. And it has seen elections as part of a strategy that views somewhat greater popular accountability and legitimacy of lower-level cadres as serving the Party’s interests.
Chih-jou Jay Chen’s examination of the politics of privatization of enterprises in a village in southern Jiangsu province reinforces these conclusions of a lack of democratization and political accountability at the local level in the Chinese countryside. Like grassroots elections, the emergence of private ownership of enterprises has varied across rural China. For the area he analyzes, Chen portrays a process in which township and village enterprises that had been, in effect, local state-owned enterprises were privatized after they encountered financial difficulties during the economic retrenchment that struck the TVE sector and the slowdown that hit the broader economy during the middle 1990s. The process of privatizing these public enterprises lacked democratic accountability. In what might be aptly called a pattern of crony capitalism with Chinese socialist characteristics, political elite or politically connected incumbent managers became the owners of these previously public assets at low prices and free of any meaningful obligation to repay the enterprises’ massive bank debt. In the transfer process, the local populace was effectively disenfranchised. Tellingly, by national standards, the village Chen studied was quite late in beginning to hold village elections, and the elections were controlled by the local Party boss.
The picture Chen paints and survey research results that Tianjian Shi presents in his study of Chinese popular attitudes toward democracy indicate that market-oriented economic reforms, rising prosperity and rampant and unpopular corruption in Party ranks have not— or at least not yet— generated significant demand for increased democracy in China. In Chen’s account of the Jiangsu village, the post-privatization elites have benefited disproportionately from the self-dealing changes in ownership structure and have become increasingly savvy about pursuing such market-based opportunities as foreign investment from Taiwan. Yet they seem to have faced little popular demand for political accountability, perhaps because the village’s continuing prosperity and the ongoing provision of apparently adequate resources for the provision of public goods tempered or preempted such political pressures.
Similarly and on a national scale, Shi’s surveys found that, after decades of market-oriented reform and rapid growth in China, ordinary citizens overwhelmingly support the broad idea of democracy in China and chafe at increasing economic inequality and pervasive corruption. But their interest in democratic reform and democratic institutions remains shallow, and, in some key respects, democratic participation has fallen. A large minority believe that democracy will not solve China’s problems, and only a very small fraction favor multi-party elections to choose national leaders. Active political participation by citizens through their work units (which had been predominantly state-owned or collectively owned and more highly politicized in earlier periods) or through informal bureaucratic channels has declined, while regular, institutionalized channels for other modes of participation— and mass demand for their establishment— have been slow to emerge. Shi, commentator Minxin Pei and other participants suggested possible explanations for the lack of popular pressure or apparent preference for democratic change, including: the populace’s emphasis on economic development over democracy (with nearly half declaring development more important and only one-fifth saying democracy was more important); popular satisfaction with the substantial increases, compared to pre-reform era baselines, in civil liberties other than democratic participation; and the Party’s continuing dominance of organized politics and capacity for manipulating public opinion or, at least, severely constraining its expression.
Whether these patterns would persist in the longer term was a central question for papers by June Teufel Dreyer and Arthur Waldron, and commentaries by Andrew Nathan, Tse-Kang Leng, Benedict Stavis, Chihjen Emile Sheng and others. Dreyer provided an inventory of serious challenges facing China. A still-expanding population (expected to peak at 1.6 billion in 2030) and a disproportionate number of males in the rising generation (the unintended byproduct of restrictive population control policies that prompted son-seeking families to abort or abandon girls) means that China will have to continue to grow rapidly simply to maintain per capita income and that the regime will need to find ways to cope with a cohort of unattached young males who pose a singular threat to social order. Energy shortages also endanger growth and will not be easily solved by increased importation of Middle Eastern oil along vulnerable sea routes, by overland pipelines from Central Asian oilfields where China faces significant competition from other East Asian states, or by domestic hydroelectric power which the Three Gorges Dam project has shown to be economically, environmentally and politically costly. Rapid development has produced severe environmental degradation that is itself a threat to growth and potentially a salient political issue.
Rising interregional and intraregional income inequality and an inadequate social safety net have bred resentment and potential instability and saddled the economy and the government with an accumulating backlog of needed investment in public welfare programs. China’s notoriously weak financial institutions generally have impeded growth and threatened to produce an economic and, in turn, political crisis if depositors were to lose confidence in banks burdened by a vast portfolio of non-performing loans to state enterprises. Corruption in the Party-state has slowed growth (by some estimates consuming up to one-sixth of gross domestic product) and eroded the legitimacy that the regime needs to address China’s many problems. Globalization, although a short-term boon to China’s exporting industries, threatens to provoke an economically damaging backlash from the U.S. and other countries that are losing market share and jobs to China. So too, the People’s Liberation Army’s modernization drive may drive China’s neighbors into a closer embrace with one another and with the United States, to the possible detriment of China’s national and economic security.
In Dreyer’s analysis, these challenges posed dire risks to continued economic growth (which, on many accounts, either serves to “buy off” pressures for democratization or to provide the foundation for the emergence of a middle class and a potentially smooth transition to democracy) or posed immediate threats to political stability (which could preclude both a peaceful democratization and a continuation of authoritarian rule). Waldron too foresaw the possibility— and, indeed, the probability— of sharp change in China’s political order. Waldron maintained that democratization would come to China in the next few decades or sooner, and pointed to recent developments in Hong Kong as a harbinger. The several hundred thousand-strong popular protests against proposed illiberal “security” and official secrets legislation in July 2003, the widespread calls during the spring of 2004 for fully democratic elections by 2007, and key business leaders’ siding with the protesters and reformers suggested how Hong Kong could and might move rapidly down the path of democratization and constitute a benevolent contagion that could spread through the mainland, much as Hong Kong and the Special Economic Zones had provided the models for the economic transformation that has swept the Chinese mainland during the reform era. Waldron noted that rapid democratization can be disruptive and costly but that it could still be successful and would likely be worth it, as shown by the rocky but ultimately positive transition from the Soviet Union to a still- troubled Russia. Waldron asserted that a democratic China would pursue policies that would be more responsive to the interests of the nation’s largest constituency: rural residents. This would mean, among other things, more investment in rural infrastructure and the agrarian economy and other policies that served peasant interests and preferences.
Several other participants were more sanguine than Dreyer and Waldron about the likelihood that China’s existing regime could navigate the dangers and pressures it faced, without undergoing radical change. They were also, thus, far more pessimistic than Waldron about the prospects for democratization in the relatively near term and its likely policy effects. Stavis argued that some Chinese statistics perhaps overstated the magnitude of some of China’s problems, that outside commentators for many years often and incorrectly have predicted an imminent crisis in China, and that the PRC leadership understood many of the problems it faced and was taking some effective measures to address some of them. Nathan spoke similarly of the regime’s authoritarian resilience and noted its successes in political institutionalization (including a successful leadership transition) and maintaining or rebuilding popular legitimacy.
Sheng and others pointed to the usually protracted and difficult path that democratization has followed, even in the exceptionally smooth and rapid case of Taiwan. Leng and other participants variously pointed to the economic and political utility of some forms of corruption, the incipient development of civil society organizations in China, and the advent of a middle class that perhaps embraced some liberal foreign ideas but does not yet seem to be a classic democracy-demanding bourgeoisie. They saw these as additional signs that the system might weather its current troubles and adapt to become more accountable and less authoritarian.
Nathan also questioned the likely impact of Hong Kong, pointing to China’s apparently intractable opposition to rapid democratization in Hong Kong and the uncertain firmness and questionable efficacy of Hong Kong residents’ pressure for democracy. Sheng attributed the collapse of the Soviet Union— the precursor to Russia’s notably imperfect democratization— to factors that do not appear to be on the horizon in China, including severe economic difficulties and confrontation with the United States. Several comments stressed that democratic institutions do not neatly lead to predictable policy changes. Quite often, governments in democratic countries— especially in newly democratic countries— adopt and implement positions at odds with the interests or preferences of the majority of their electorates. On this view, elite manipulation of public opinion or the development of popular nationalism (which Waldron discounted as merely incipient in China) can have profoundly distorting effects.
As such assessments indicate, the prospects that the current PRC system can cope effectively with the challenges it faces is in part a matter of the regime’s skill and will. Gilbert Rozman provided insight into these questions through an examination of how the PRC political elite has understood several broad theories about the relationship between development and democracy. Modernization theory generally posits that political liberalization must eventually accompany economic development, although later modernizers’ and, perhaps, East Asian countries’ state-led development may postpone such political change. In Rozman’s account, the PRC leadership’s reading of modernization theory has seized on the caveat about late modernizers and East Asian states to rationalize resistance to political reform. Comparative socialist analyses have posited a gradual convergence between socialist and non-socialist systems and a strong link between economic reforms in socialist systems and some degree of democratization. Yet, official or influential PRC views included a significant, though recently faded, strain that interpreted the Soviet collapse as the consequence of moving too quickly toward democracy and thereby losing control. Civilizational theory, in its more sophisticated East Asian applications, holds that Confucian societies may embody values that facilitate successful delay— but that do not mandate ultimate denial— of democratization. But, PRC political elites have tried— although with decreasing persuasiveness after the democratization of several East Asian states and the Asian Financial Crisis— to use crude civilizational theory to justify their attempts to postpone democratization indefinitely. In sum, Rozman’s analysis suggests that we can expect a persisting, if possibly untenable and therefore weakening, resistance at the top to democratization in China.
Democracy and Its Discontents in Taiwan
Analyses of the development of democratic politics in Taiwan provided a sharp contrast to-and, on some views, a potential model for-the PRC, as well as an important case of democratization in its own right. Panelists and commentators uniformly recognized the rapid and extensive transition from authoritarian rule to democracy during the last two decades, and noted the significantly top-down character of the process.
Shelley Rigger assessed Taiwan as a possible instance of “best-case democratization,” pointing to five factors that were conducive to a successful transition. These included: an ingrained ideology (dating to Sun Yat-sen and the founding of the Republic of China) containing principles of democracy and social justice that often had been merely aspirational or overshadowed by nationalism but that were never fully abandoned; a long period of economic development and social mobilization from the 1950s through the 1980s that created the foundations for a vibrant civil society; the presence, on the eve of democratization, of proto-democratic institutions that had given the populace experience with elections, campaigns, influence on local governance, and (given that elections had no impact on selection of major policy-making officials) a mode for expressing strongly, even radically critical and pro-democracy sentiments; pressure to undertake democratization as a means to protect Taiwan’s international status in an era when the PRC was making diplomatic gains and the ROC’s claim to be the “real China” was eroding; and the pragmatic leadership of Chiang Ching-kuo and others who accepted the merits or necessity of democratization and worked with the opposition to secure the orderly expansion of democratic accountability and participation.
Rigger, I-shen Chen, Yung Wei, Yuan-kang Wang, several commentators and other participants discerned weaknesses in Taiwan’s democracy. The critiques fell principally into four categories. First, the behavior of political leaders. One analysis of presidential campaign politics concluded that principal parties candidates in Taiwan’s direct presidential elections (which took place in 1996, 2000 and 2004) exploited or manipulated communal divisions in Taiwan (especially between mainlanders and Taiwanese) and the “independence vs. reunification” issue (with respect to which most voters arguably favor the status quo) in ways that often helped the winning candidate but that may not have served Taiwan’s interests or advanced Taiwanese voters’ underlying or prior preferences. Another assessment condemned former President Lee Teng-hui for eroding Taiwan’s democracy and fostering a populist authoritarianism. Other, more moderate critiques blamed the overly “top down” nature of Taiwan’s democratization for many of the more specific weaknesses that several of the participants discerned.
Second, weaknesses in Taiwan’s political institutions. Most comments agreed that the constitution that is operative on Taiwan has significant shortcomings, including an ambiguous allocation of power among the branches (particularly between the president and the legislature) and a resulting tendency to produce political stalemate and paralyzingly partisan politics. Several commentators attributed much of this difficulty to amendments in recent years that were described variously as self-serving, partisan, haphazard, and overly numerous. On these views, the much-amended constitution has left Taiwan with a system that is neither presidential nor parliamentary and thus provides weak mechanisms of political accountability. In the 2004 presidential election, these and other constitutional infirmities became more politically salient as Chen’s successful reelection campaign sought to base calls for a new constitution largely on the inefficiencies of the governmental structure mandated by the existing charter. In addition to the constitution, Taiwan’s political parties also received some of the blame, for their hasty moves to seek political advantage by adjusting their positions on important and divisive issues (especially in presidential elections) and for the lack inter-party negotiation and compromise (perhaps reflecting the principal parties’ origins as nation-building or democratizing, rather than democratically governing, parties). Another assessment stressed the weaknesses of the fifth estate, arguing that the lack of a more robust press made it easier for political elites to manipulate public opinion, particularly in the form of appeals to sentiments of Taiwanese nationalism that increased the risk of conflict with China.
Third, political culture and social and economic conditions. Among the dysfunctional traits identified in the body politics were a vulnerability to persuasion and mobilization by manipulative or irresponsible rhetoric, a resentment or insecurity born of decades or centuries of foreign influence or domination, and a lingering paternalistic conception of politics that has entailed expectations that government could and should solve an implausibly wide range of problems. Assessments also pointed to the volatility and stress that have arisen or might (or might not) arise from such sources as: a polarized electorate (which became especially problematic in the close and disputed 2004 presidential election); the political salience of “identities” as “Chinese” or “Taiwanese” or both (which are so complex that the answers many Taiwanese give to the “identity question” depend heavily on the precise phrasing of the question, the choice among disputed survey methodologies, the relative emphasis on economic, political or cultural dimensions of affinity to or alienation from the mainland, and the impact of recent but often evanescent political developments); and an economy that has faced its first significant downturn and slowdown in many years (albeit from high baselines) and that is characterized by growing income inequality (although from a starting point of relatively egalitarian distribution).
Fourth, international insecurity, specifically the problem of relations with China. Panelists variously saw several democracy-harming effects. The intractable nature of cross-Strait relations may have contributed significantly to the broader political pattern of government inaction on issues of critical importance. The pervasive dependence on American support for Taiwan’s security has made “playing the U.S. card” a vital, effective and often distorting and destabilizing factor in Taiwan’s presidential electoral politics. Proffered formulae and preconditions for possible unification with the mainland have contributed to sharp divisions in domestic politics. The cross-Strait threat, of course, also has made PRC efforts to affect Taiwan’s presidential elections a significant factor in Taiwan’s politics (although, in the cases of PRC moves preceding the first three direct elections— the PRC missile tests and military maneuvers in 1996, the stern warnings from Zhu Rongji about the possible consequences of electing Chen Shui-bian in 2000 and, arguably, the warning to Chen that Wen Jiabao secured from George W. Bush in late 2003— with effects that were, at least in the short term, the opposite of what Beijing wanted).
China, Greater China and East Asia: Accommodating Democratic and Undemocratic Polities?
Do the prospect of a more democratic China and the fact of China’s deepening economic integration with its neighbors imply peace and stability in China’s relations with the outside world generally, its region more specifically, and Taiwan in particular? Do such political structural solutions as regionalism or federalism offer promising means for accommodation between an undemocratic PRC and its democratic neighbors? Many of the participants addressed these three issues and came to a variety of conclusions.
First, the “democratic peace” thesis received considerable attention, but almost no one thought it applied simply and neatly in the current Chinese context. In its usual formulation, the theory asserts that democracies are less likely to go to war (especially with one another). The usual reasons offered are, first, that leaders in democratic states face institutional constraints, including accountability to an electorate with relatively free access to information and a disinclination to risk blood and treasure in causes that do not affect its vital interests, and, second, democratic polities instill habits of negotiation and compromise in the making of policy choices, with such primarily domestic policy-focused practices spilling over into the making of foreign policy.
In Arthur Waldron’s view, a democratic China would be more peaceful and friendly in most of its external relations, for reasons that are broadly consistent with some tenets of the democratic peace thesis: a Chinese government accountable to a peasant majority electorate would be more concerned with maintaining good relations with China’s main trading and investment partners (including the U.S., Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong), would place less emphasis on relations with the dwindling band of communist states (including North Korea), and would pay more attention to relations with China’s giant neighbor India. In addition to the economic benefits, such a foreign policy shift would reduce the risk of military confrontations that would put China’s largely peasant army needlessly in harm’s way— outcomes that would predictably appeal to largely rural and relatively poor voters. As the inventory of countries with which China would be expected to seek, and not seek, better ties indicates, this vision of a democratic China’s foreign policy would entail especially improved relations with the many democracies along its borders and beyond. Rozman’s analysis pointed out that China already has made considerable progress toward accommodating some of its democratic neighbors through growing Northeast Asian regionalism, although the motivation was in significant part to seek leverage against the United States’ potentially overwhelming power and influence.
Commentators Nathan and Sheng took issue with Waldron’s conclusions, arguing that even democratic states’ governments often pursue foreign policies seemingly relatively unconstrained by the self-interest or any significant preferences held by their electorates, and that China’s foreign policy long has manifested a primarily defensive and existing-territory-protecting posture (with the exception of Taiwan) that likely would not undergo a radical change if the interests of China’s masses had a greater influence on foreign policy.
More broadly, as many participants stressed, the PRC today clearly lacks the democratic institutions and attributes that are central to the democratic peace thesis, and China may lack them for a long time to come. Moreover, Yuan-kang Wang, commentator Nancy Bernkopf Tucker and other contributors argued, even a democratic China might not be the peaceful and accommodating China that many foreign proponents of Chinese democratization assume. In these views, illiberal democracy and virulently nationalistic democracy were realistic possible outcomes. Some participants concluded that a more democratic but nationalistic PRC would bode especially ill for cross-Strait relations, particularly as it faced rising indigenous nationalism in democratic Taiwan. Many of the same participants also stressed the relevance of a key revision to the democratic peace thesis: that democratizing states may be relatively war-prone (and certainly more inclined to conflict than the relatively fully democratic states that are the focus of the democratic peace thesis). Thus, progress toward democracy in China might, tragically and ironically, increase the likelihood of international conflict in the Chinese region and especially across the Taiwan Strait.
Second, theories that economic “globalization” or “integration” or “interdependence” is conducive to China’s peaceful engagement with its neighbors and other powers also drew mixed assessments and caveats from participants. In China’s and other Northeast Asian states’ deepening economic integration and growing embrace of regionalist approaches (whether to address common problems and or to pursue China’s desire to balance American power), Rozman saw potential for a virtuous circle— albeit on a modest scale: Such mutual accommodation between an undemocratic China and its democratic partners might help to erode the Chinese elite’s intolerance of democratic reform at home.
Shu Keng pointed to the rapid expansion and deepening of cross-Strait economic and social ties as a powerful factor that could move Taiwan toward political integration with China. On Keng’s view, these developments had already created significant de facto integration at a variety of levels “below” the formal— and more antagonistic— political relationship between the governments in Beijing and Taipei. They were also creating politically influential business constituencies in Taiwan that favored political accommodation. Under these conditions, it was becoming questionable whether Chen Shui-bian (with his recent narrow and controversial reelection) and other leaders would be able (or, if replaced by their opponents, willing) to maintain restrictions on economic and social integration and to continue the rejection of closer political ties. As Keng acknowledged and commentators Tucker and Hseik-wen Soong and others stressed, the political or international relations consequences of deepening cross-Strait economic bonds were far from certain, given: the state’s continued ability to limit such ties and resist their consequences; the very different policy preferences held within the broadly “pro-integration” camp; the ambivalent reaction that many Taiwanese have had as they have gained experience with the mainland; the signs of rising national identity and politically salient nationalism among the electorate and the incumbent leadership in Taiwan; and the U.S.’s interest in maintaining the tense but reasonably stable cross-Strait status quo.
Finally, participants were skeptical about the potential of formal political structures for accommodating the interests of an undemocratic China and democratic or aspiring democratic polities along the PRC’s periphery. Rozman’s portrait of rising Northeast Asian regionalism foresees little in the way of formal institutional arrangements. It also recognizes the considerable counter-pressures that arise from China’s neighbors’ fear of domination by a powerful China, and that drive some of them toward maintaining or developing closer ties with the key extra-regional power (the United States) and away from institutions that would integrate them tightly into a Chinese-dominated Northeast Asian regime.
Jacques deLisle, commentators Tahirih Lee, Woei Tsai and other participants saw little prospect for federalism as a means for China’s effectively accommodating and integrating democracy in Taiwan or in Hong Kong. DeLisle noted federalism’s seeming suitability to the circumstances of China and “greater China”: its demonstrated efficacy in large, economically and ethnically diverse states; its parallels to the “one country, two systems” model the PRC adopted for Hong Kong and Macao and offered for Taiwan; and its apparent resonance with the policies of political decentralization and provincial or local level policy experimentation that have been prominent features of reform-era China. Nonetheless, deLisle and others argued, the prospects for true and democracy-accommodating federalism in China seemed bleak. Legacies of history posed one set of problems: the traditional fear of disunity that haunts Chinese political culture; the ambivalent attitude toward decentralized political authority; and the association of federalism with a broader package of Western legal and constitutional ideas that have long provoked suspicion and distrust. Fundamental features of PRC political and constitutional structure presented more severe difficulties: a constitutional commitment to a unitary state that regards all delegations of power to lower levels as discretionary and revocable; the retention of plenary constitutional interpretive and legislative power in the hands of the national legislature (and, in practice, in the hands of the central Party leadership) even with respect to key provisions of Hong Kong’s ostensibly super-federalist Basic Law; the absence of a true, functional (as opposed to merely formal, legal) commitment to— and effective institutions for protecting— the federalist principle that a set of identifiable important matters are left to subnational units unless and until proper, difficult to deploy and rarely used processes alter those rules governing the allocation of authority. Recent economic and policy trends appeared unfavorable to federalism as well: WTO-related pressures to reduce intra-national regulatory fragmentation; the Hu Jintao leadership’s ostensible commitment to inevitably interventionist cross-regional redistribution to benefit the areas left behind by a quarter century of reform through decentralization; and top leadership concern with such adverse consequences of economic and political decentralization as local protectionism, reckless economic policies and corruption. Tsai suggested that the impediments to Chinese federalism might be still more severe, with the establishment of the rule of law and democracy as possible preconditions for effective federalism— a conclusion that Lee suggested may resonate with the views of radically reformist PRC intellectuals who have often nearly equated democracy with federalism.
Moreover, deLisle, Lee and others also concluded, imaginable Chinese federalism looked especially unpromising as a means for accommodating democracy in Taiwan or Hong Kong. The long-standing ostensibly most federal-like arrangements in China— “autonomous regions” such as Tibet or Xinjiang— enjoyed notoriously little control over their own affairs and notoriously little accountability to the ethnic minorities whose presence was their raison d’etre. The process for negotiating Hong Kong’s integration under a federalism-like structure was undemocratic and yielded an arrangement that, both before reversion and since, has been hostile to the advancement of democracy in Hong Kong. The “SAR plus” model obviously has held very little appeal to those who seek to safeguard Taiwan’s democracy as well as Taiwan’s autonomy. While in principle a federalism-like solution could sufficiently decentralize power in “greater China” to permit the development or maintenance of democracy in Hong Kong, Taiwan or elsewhere, practice so far has pointed in the opposite direction and democracy in Taiwan and more limited democratization in Hong Kong have fueled opposition to integration in any “federal” structure that might be acceptable to Beijing.
Implications for U.S. Policy
Participants in the conference generally agreed that it was very likely, and probably on balance desirable, that U.S. policy would continue to promote democracy in China and the protection of democracy in Taiwan and, to the more limited extent possible, in Hong Kong, as well as in the world more broadly. Beyond this broad near-consensus, there was considerable variety of opinion.
In closing remarks, Ambassador Mark Palmer called for an aggressive agenda to end dictatorship in China by 2015, through diplomatic pressure, cooperative undertakings with other democracies, and engagement with Chinese leaders and potential democratic reformers. Waldron and others attributed to the East Asian and global wave of democratization the potential for precipitating and accelerating democratization in China. DeLisle argued that federalism, of a sort that is conducive to democratization, might be included in the broad American agenda of rule of law and human rights reform (and would be no more offensive or threatening to Chinese leaders than much of what was already on that agenda). Rozman suggested that China’s closer contacts with regional democracies could nudge China slowly in a democratic direction, making China engage more deeply with its neighbors’ democratic ways and offering the PRC leadership some insulation from the U.S.’s more assertive calls for more rapid democratic or human rights reform.
As a caution to some of the more optimistic predictions and ambitious prescriptions, there stood other participants’ arguments: that democratization has been an imperfect and still-ongoing process even in Taiwan; that the PRC regime has demonstrated considerable ingenuity and resilience in resisting pressures for democratization; that some widely presumed preconditions for democracy remain absent in China; and that democratization and perhaps even full democracy in China may produce some consequences (including in Chinese foreign policy) that the U.S. would not welcome.