This post was originally published last year but it’s relevant in the light of the naive comments from McCully on Q+A today about China cooperating with New Zealand on aid to Fiji.
Liberal democracy (ie. democracy where there are truly competitive elections) is the dominant ideology of government of our time, having seen off monarchy and totalitarianism in both its fascist and communist guises. And if there’s one thing the world’s liberal democracies agree on is that spreading liberal democracy is a good idea, (unless it interferes with other interests, naturally).
A lot of effort goes into trying to democratise other countries, because we feel a moral duty to do so and it’s good for business. Nation building, peace-keeping/building, free trade, multilateralism, conditional aid, cultural and educational exchanges, sanctions, military action, and good old-fashioned diplomacy are all tools that are used by Western countries to try to democratise other countries. The number of democracies continues to grow.
But there’s an elephant in this room, a rather large one: China. China is not a democracy, let alone a liberal one, and its interests are not served by other countries becoming democracies. Democracies are less likely to be willing allies of China and more likely to be critics. More democracy abroad increases agitation for democracy at home. So, China works to prop up non-democratic governments and shield them from democratisation pressure from the West. Fiji, Zimbabwe, Tonga, Samoa, The Solomon Islands, Sudan, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Burma, and Cuba are all examples of countries that are recieving diplomatic protection, aid, and investment with China meaning they haven’t had to turn to the West, with it’s â€˜good governance’ demands, for support. China makes an attractive option for bad governments, it is a powerful ally that gives money and aid free of demands for better governance, all it asks in return is support in international forums, preference for resource deals, and, occasionally, military access.
This makes our democratisation project more difficult. Countries are less willing to listen to us or obey our rules, and if we push too hard they will turn to China. This is increasingly happening in the Pacific Islands, and democratisation is stalling or reversing in several countries. As a contact working on Pacific issues puts it: ‘strategically, China’s got us fucked’.
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