Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Clinton’s talk of democracy in Asia lacks precision

by David Pilling

Financial Times

July 11, 2012

This week Hillary Clinton pulled off a remarkable feat. She gave an entire speech about China without mentioning the C-word. Although the US secretary of state avoided explicit reference to China, she did use the D-word. By my count, she mentioned “democracy” 48 times.

The speech was given in Mongolia, a country on China’s doorstep (or should that be door-steppe), whose “pluralistic, democratic system”, Mrs Clinton said, set an example. She even talked about a “community of democracies”, which was a new one on me. Parliament of owls. Murder of crows. Community of democracies.

This is not to denigrate the contents of Mrs Clinton’s speech. She is right to stand up for individual liberties, freedom of expression and freedom from persecution for one’s beliefs. She is right, too, to stress the importance of women’s rights, sadly lacking in parts of Asia. One can only hope she makes the same speech next time she visits Riyadh.

Mrs Clinton was also correct in pointing to the progress towards democracy that some Asian countries have made. She quoted Freedom House, a US-based non-governmental advocacy group, which says Asia has come further over the past five years than any other region. A few veterans of Tahrir Square might quibble with that. But several Asian countries have undoubtedly taken important democratic steps. The most obvious is Myanmar, where political prisoners have been released, press restrictions relaxed and Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy allowed to contest – and win – parliamentary by-elections.


Freedom House