Giving a lesson from failure

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Giving a lesson from failure


“Why do you need such an inspection?” a Chinese reporter asked me. We were on the way from covering the National Assembly foreign policy and unification committee’s audit of the government. Lawmakers made long speeches making an argument without asking a proper question and said, “We don’t have time for your answer.” The officials did not give any substantial answers and equivocated. They seemed pathetic, so it is not surprising that the Chinese reporter found it absurd as he lives in the system that is far from the separation of the three branches.

But I had to say, “At least, we have a procedure to check if the government didn’t do anything wrong and allow the people to watch and be informed. It may seem useless, but it’s better to have it than not. That’s what democracy is about.” I almost sounded like lecturing a child. He did not refute. Recently, he watched Korean news and told me, “Well, there is no parliamentary audit of the government in China, but at least we don’t have this kind of leader.” This time, I couldn’t argue.

Chinese people were highly interested in the recent U.S. presidential election. While the election outcome was the center of their attention, Chinese state-run media reports were different. They skipped reporting on the process of selecting the candidates through fair process and competition, the policy discussions, television debates and free expression of political views.

Instead, they highlighted the personal attacks and dirty battles in the campaign. People’s Daily reported, “The U.S. Presidential election is a battle of money and a mere spectacle. Even American citizens are losing conviction on American democracy.”

Of course, the confidence that “Well, China has the best system” can be read between the lines. As the Xi Jinping system works so hard to prevent a Western democratic trend from affecting China and emphasizes the superiority of Chinese-style socialism, it must have been the best subject matter. Just in time, the president that Koreans had elected turned out to be a criminal suspect, so this also is great news for China’s propaganda.

I realized that the Chinese people are not treating the scandal as gossip after meeting a veteran journalist. He writes editorials for a leading Chinese daily newspaper, and he said, “There are a group of intellectuals in China called the ‘liberals.’ The political reformists advocate introducing elements of liberal democracy.”

There used to be some among Chinese leaders that openly speak of political reform. But since Xi Jinping came into power, the activities of the liberals are withering. To make their stance more solid, liberal democratic states need to set examples.

But considering the latest events in Korea and the United States, they wouldn’t have a good argument. Now, to the Chinese people, Korea is not setting an example of democracy but giving a lesson from failure.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 22, Page 30

*The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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