Thai Lessons for China

BEIJING – Whatever the effects of political turmoil in Thailand, they are not helping the cause of democracy in China. The images of pro-democracy protesters and the subsequent military crackdown in downtown Bangkok have been openly shown in Chinese media without any apparent bias. Indeed, there is no need to embellish the political message for China.

If a relatively well-off and religious country known as the “land of smiles” can so rapidly degenerate into bloody class warfare, what would happen if the Chinese Communist Party lost its monopoly on power? It is not hard to imagine a Chinese-style red-shirt rebellion, with populist leaders tapping resentment and hot-headed youth torching symbols of power and privilege in Beijing. If multi-party democracy leads to violent and uncompromising electoral blocs, then most reflective people will prefer one-party rule that ensures social stability.

Still, it would be a mistake for the Chinese government to treat the events in Thailand as an excuse to postpone political reform. The gap between rich and poor is about the same in both countries, and there are tens of thousands of class-based “illegal disturbances” in China every year.

The Chinese government is promoting social welfare in the countryside, but it must also give more institutional expression to social grievances. That requires more representation by farmers and workers in the National People’s Congress and sub-national legislative organs, more freedom for public-spirited journalists to investigate cases of social injustice, and more freedom for civic organizations to act on behalf of the environment and those who do not benefit from economic reform.