China’s ‘bad emperor’ returns



The weakness of China’s traditional authoritarian political system has for centuries been called the “bad emperor” problem, notes Francis Fukuyama, a senior fellow at Stanford University and director of its Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.

A dictatorship with few checks and balances on executive power, like independent courts, a free media or an elected legislature, can do amazing things when the emperor is good: think of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew during the early years of Singapore’s growth. The downfall of earlier Chinese regimes has been the emergence of a bad emperor, who could plunge the country into terrible crisis since there were no effective limits on his or (as in the case of the Tang Dynasty’s “Evil Empress Wu”) her power, he writes for The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post.

How bad China’s current emperor will be has yet to be determined, adds Fukuyama, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group:

So far, he has crushed the hopes of many Chinese for a more open, transparent and liberal society. He has emphasized the party over the country, cracked down on the slightest instances of dissent and instituted a social credit system that uses big data and artificial intelligence to monitor the daily behavior of the country’s citizens. As such, China under Xi may end up showing the world the unimagined forms that a 21st century totalitarian state can take.

China may have formally tightened the screws on Hong Kong on Monday by eliminating a reference to the people of the territory governing themselves, in a key report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang at the opening of the annual meeting of the country’s parliament, The Washington Post reports:

This year, there was one striking omission, quickly spotted by reporters from Hong Kong. Describing the principle of “one country, two systems” under which Hong Kong has been governed since the handover from British rule, the 2017 report said: “under which the people of Hong Kong govern themselves, the people of Macao govern themselves, and both regions enjoy a high degree of autonomy.”

That entire phrase was eliminated this year.

“It is an obvious gesture to solidify Beijing’s increasingly intrusive role in Hong Kong’s own domestic affairs and continue the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” said Avery Ng, a pro-democracy activist and chairman of the League of Social Democrats in Hong Kong. “This small omission is a big step backward.”

Francis Fukuyama’s book “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” will be published in September.

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