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China's Emerging Governance Crisis Enables Corruption, Environmental Degradation, and Ineffective Consumer Regulation
Less than a year before the start of the XXIX Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Chinese authorities are facing a set of serious challenges that expose the vulnerabilities of the country’s insular and unaccountable government institutions, Freedom House said in a new report released today.
Countries at the Crossroads, an annual survey of democratic governance in 30 strategically important countries worldwide, reported that efforts by the Chinese government to join the international community and the world economy will likely test the system’s durability. Mounting environmental catastrophes, scandals associated with dangerous consumer products exported from China, and the authorities’ inability to rein in rampant corruption are symptoms of deeper, fundamental gaps in the country’s system of governance.
The report on China, as well as on each of the other 29 countries examined in the survey, is available online. Also available are an overview essay, a package of charts and graphs, and other information about the survey.
“The absence of accountable governing institutions is the Achilles’ heel of the Chinese leadership’s experiment in modernization,” said Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor. “The tens of thousands of protests taking place in China each year are a clear signal that the people of China desire change in the direction of democratic accountability.”
The Crossroads report cites China’s lack of governmental transparency as a pivotal problem that has been addressed only marginally. “The pervasive culture of secrecy exacerbates or perpetuates almost every problem,” added Sanja Kelly, the managing editor of the survey. “Even in matters of life and death, including the spread of disease, environmental disasters, or sales of hazardous products, the government often refuses to permit the release of critical information that could potentially save lives.”
The detailed governance assessment in Countries at the Crossroads looks at four core areas of democratic governance: anti-corruption and transparency; rule of law; civil liberties; and accountability and public voice.
China performs poorly on all of these indicators and is among the weakest in the study in accountability and public voice, which examines such issues as free and fair electoral laws and elections; effective and accountable government; civic engagement and civic monitoring; and media independence. On a scale of 0-7, with 7 representing the strongest performance, China earns a score of 1 on media independence, placing it near the bottom of the countries examined.
“The Chinese authorities’ effort to control information and suppress political discussion is reaping ever-diminishing returns,” said Christopher Walker, Freedom House director of studies. “The government’s monitoring and filtering of the Internet is undercutting the flow of information needed to improve policy and decision-making. As China plays such a pivotal role in the world economy, this has consequences for us all.”
The Crossroads report identifies several key recommendations for the Chinese authorities that would enhance the prospects for meaningful reform, including:
- Easing registration requirement for civil society groups and allowing such groups to play a more active role in helping society meeting the challenges of environmental degradation, corruption, and social welfare.
- Improving the transparency of information and the efficiency of its dissemination, especially as regards the disclosure of information about natural disasters and health risks, thereby allowing Chinese and foreigners to take timely and appropriate protective measures.
- Cessation of comprehensive official monitoring of the Internet, while encouraging party and state officials to engage in a more open competition of ideas by debating and exchanging views with bloggers and other internet users, instead of restricting them.
- Allowing the petition and court systems to play a larger role in combating corruption at local levels, with freer rein also given to the media, NGOs, and citizens to expose cases of corruption and adequate protection for petitioners, litigants, and whistle-blowers from corrupt officials who threaten them.
This year’s report examined the following countries: Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Laos, Libya, Mauritania, Mozambique, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Russia, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, and Zambia.
Of the 30 countries examined, Mauritania advanced the most in the past two years due to elections, improvements in civil liberties, and anticorruption efforts. Libya showed improvements since 2005 in the areas of rule of law and anticorruption, and Bhutan marked broad improvements as a result of the country’s gradual transition to a more open society.
In contrast, Thailand showed a major decline due to last year’s coup, and Eritrea continued its descent into extremely repressive governance. Russia declined in accountability and public voice as a result of a restrictive NGO law and increased government control of the media.
Countries at the Crossroads provides detailed written analysis and comparative data on 30 critical, policy-relevant countries each year. The polities evaluated represent a range of systems: traditional or constitutional monarchies; one-party states or outright dictatorships; oil-rich “petrostates;” and states where democratic reforms have stalled. Crossroads covers an extensive set of countries while offering readers useful time series data, as well as comprehensive narrative evaluation of the progress and backsliding in each country.
Freedom House, an independent private organization supporting the expansion of freedom throughout the world, has been monitoring the state of political rights and civil liberties around the globe since 1972.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.