Posted at 9:32 AM on October 2, 2007
by Jeff Horwich
We're working on a show about democracy, so I'm especially sensitive to the term at the moment...
I'm reading about the latest on the Myanmar thing in the New York Times (registration required), when I see this sentence delivered with no apparent sense of irony (neither by the originator of the message nor the newspaper):
China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, urged Myanmar to resolve the crisis peacefully. “China hopes that all parties concerned in Myanmar show restraint, resume stability through peaceful means as soon as possible, promote domestic reconciliation and achieve democracy and development,” Mr. Wen said in Beijing, according to Agence France-Presse.
The other main voice in the story calling for the Burma junta to back down is...Singapore.
Exsqueeze me? China and Singapore? What business do a Communist dictatorship and a one-party police state have telling Myanmar's generals they need to chill out and let free speech run its course?
I can understand, of course, why they would want peace in the region. Calling for peace and restraint would be no surprise. But seeing these two countries as standard-bearers, publically coming down on Myanmar -- and China actually using the word "democracy" in an official government statement -- it all seems weird and phony. And it's definitely a foggy use of the word "democracy."
Is there a fundamental conflict of language here -- do both of these countries actually think that they are democracies? Or is this Myanmar episode just a convenient and calculated opportunity to jump in and subtly influence the perceptions of others about their own political systems? ("Hello, we're China and Singapore. We've got economic freedom, which looks like democracy if you don't look too close. Remember: At least we're not Myanmar!)