The Triumph Of Asia's Democracies
The mood and language at the two meetings could not be more different. Beijing's congress is all about long speeches that say little, leaving reporters and analysts scrambling to interpret the implications of the slightest variation of phrase. In Beijing there is the wooden language of neocommunism and the rhetorical hokum of Jiang Zemin's theory of the "Three Represents," containing empty ideas that imply great wisdom and high theory. What those touting such banal ideas decidedly do not represent is the will of the people as expressed through free and competitive elections.
At the Seoul meeting, which began yesterday and ends on Tuesday, the style is one of frank discussion, diplomatic in tone, but expressing differences of approach and opinion. And there is a large representation of and interaction with civic groups that often take critical positions vis-a-vis their governments. A tradition of debate and disagreement was established at the last congress of the Community of Democracies two years ago, when France dissented from the consensus and refused to sign the concluding document, claiming it represented U.S. dominance and excessive moralizing. Sometime disagreement and occasional rancor are the messy language of democracy.
The meetings of the Community of Democracies are organized by a core group of 10 states, including South Korea, India, Poland and the United States. They bring together countries that have taken a sharply different path from China, embracing economic progress and political freedom at the same time.
Many of the states represented in Seoul are, like their Korean hosts, headed and represented by those who took part in a peaceful civic struggle to topple tyranny. In one sense, this meeting of foreign ministers from the world's democratic nations reflects the power and crucial political role of civil society and the private sector.
Convening parallel to the Seoul ministers meeting is a nongovernmental forum of civic and political movements and leading scholars and thinkers from around the world. These include many representatives of the groups fighting for political and civil liberties in China that Beijing sees as its enemies: from Falun Gong representatives to former student and worker leaders of the Tiananmen protests, Hong Kong human-rights activists and leaders of the democratic movement in Taiwan.
At the Communist congress in Beijing, ordinary ideas masquerade as grand theories. The centerpiece of this year's posturing is the theory of the "Three Represents," first trotted out by Mr. Jiang two years ago. It simply says that the Chinese Communist Party should represent the needs of "advanced forces of production" such as private and hi-tech firms, advanced culture and the "fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people." Nonetheless this banal formulation is being celebrated by China's propaganda machine as a breakthrough and an important contribution to human thought.
Because democratic leaders have a mandate based on public consent, their governments must perform well by allowing their citizens the maximum possible freedom to pursue their own aims. But for China's Communists, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, scholars and writers are not the sources of "genius" or innovation, it is the party that claims that role.
In an ideological dictatorship, like China, the party has only two bases for claiming any legitimacy: force and a claim to ideological wisdom. That is why throughout history most Marxist-Leninist party leaders (think Stalin, Mao, Fidel Castro) have ludicrously cast themselves as deep and learned thinkers.
A few years ago, when the Asian-values debate was at its height and many saw China as a model for the developing world to follow, the convening of the world's democracies in a major Asian capital might have been seen as going against the grain. But times have changed and, as shown by the Community of Democracies meeting; South and East Asia led by India, South Korea, the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand are now a firm bedrock of the world's ever-expanding cohort of democratic -- if imperfect -- societies. That this democracy conference is being hosted by one of the Asian tigers stands as a clear example that democratic reform and respect for human rights are hardly an impediment to economic growth.
It also makes this meeting of democracies a counter-example to the Communist gathering in Beijing and places a great responsibility on the governments gathered in Seoul. For the Community of Democracies to succeed, lively rhetoric and open discourse among world leaders must be linked to concrete actions that help ensure effective coordination and mutual support among societies from the rich developed world and the democracies of the poorer reaches of the globe.
For this to happen the meeting of the Community of Democracies should move toward creating a cohesive multinational alliance of states committed to free and fair elections, freedom of expression and pluralism. It should also articulate a concrete agenda that includes: .
Establishment of a democracy caucus at the United Nations. Such a group could effectively counter coordinated efforts by closed and repressive regimes that presently have great influence in key U.N. bodies.
Support for fragile poorer democracies through a "democracy premium" for foreign aid. Such an initiative would strategically invest in, and award aid to, developing states that abide by democratic principles and respect basic human rights. Such an approach, building upon the Millennium Challenge Account Initiative recently announced by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, would award increased development assistance to countries with a proven commitment to democracy and good governance.
Improving coordination of multilateral policies to avert coups d'etat and other threats to democracy and democratically accountable leaders. Such coordinated efforts in response to such threats are already a part of the repertory of the Organization of American States and the British Commonwealth.
Whatever happens in Beijing and in Seoul, one thing is clear: The last three decades have seen a global trend toward democratic governance in Asia and around the world. And this means that the bland and boring old men on the dais in Beijing are losing out to the values represented by the democratic diversity on display in Seoul.
Mr. Karatnycky, president of Freedom House, was co-director of the first non-governmental forum of the Community of Democracies, which convened in Warsaw in June 2000.
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.