Thursday, July 27, 2006

Chinese activist "Beat himself up" - whatever next?

This could be farcical if Fu Xiancai hadn't been beaten up so badly - when returning home after being summoned by the police - that three vertebrae in his neck were broken, and he is unlikely ever to walk again.

His issue? He campaigned for people displaced by the Three Gorges dam. In effect he was hindering economic progress in the name of human rights - the property rights, presumably, of people to their homes and farms.

At the end of the 19th century The Economist famously forecast that the USA would overtake the UK as the world's leading economy in the next century. The equivalent forecast now is that China will overtake the USA in this century. It's hard to view this with quite the same degree of equanimity.

Whatever you might think of US conduct in Guantanomo (and I think it has undermined both the reputation of the US and respect for international law) and of the invasion of Iraq (and I went on two demonstrations to express my views on that) the fact is that having the USA as the world's greatest economy did, at least, show that being a society based on democracy, free speech and individual rights was compatible with economic growth and national success despite the temptation for incompetent and corrupt governments everywhere to argue otherwise.

Until or unless China is mature enough to have evolved a system of law which protects its citizens and their rights, I'm pinning my hopes that less-hyped dark horse in the economic growth stakes, India. What's more, I'll bet that if India does succeed in outgrowing China, it will be because of the greater social stability and freedom from expropriation provided by a free press and the rules of law, not despite it.