Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Can Chinese Societies be Civil Societies?

Sino Daily asks: Can Chinese Societies be Civil Societies? A forum in Hong Kong finds that Hong Kong comes closest.

In a nutshell, they said, Hong Kong had freedom without democracy, Singapore had democracy without freedom, Taiwan had both but without the rule of law, and mainland China had none of the above.

The appraisals were part of a forum titled "Civil Society on the Move?" organized by Hong Kong University's Journalism and Media Studies Center, and featuring prominent media representatives from Beijing, Taipei and Hong Kong.

James Jin, chairman of the Cite Publishing Holding Group and publisher of Business Weekly in Taiwan, pointed out the forum's English title reflected a positive, progressive outlook, implying the three societies were in fact moving toward Western-style democracy. He said Western media often took that view in their analyses, even of China. However, it could be wishful thinking.

James Jin argued then went on to describe Our Fair Isle in rather jaundiced terms:

Taiwan, which emerged from authoritarian rule just a decade ago, is still in transition with the outcome uncertain, Jin said. He said it was questionable whether Taiwanese were happier or more secure under the current elected leadership than 10 years ago, under the leadership of the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party.

"Having freedoms is like chasing a dream lover -- it's a little disappointing when you get up close," he said.

While Taiwan's media is free, he said there was an explosion of ideas, but no focus, and an entertainment-oriented media that did not help people formulate intelligent views. Taiwan's people are confused about their identity, he said.

In Jin's analysis, democracy and the rule of law are better than authoritarianism, but "good authoritarianism" is better than chaos and confusion.

And silence about at least one important problem:

Neither speaker mentioned pressure from Beijing as a destabilizing factor in Taiwanese society, perhaps in deference to their mainland co-panelist. The omission has become a trend in Hong Kong -- it is no longer politically correct to criticize Beijing in a public forum, and self-censorship is the norm.

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