8 September 2011

As a very small player on the international stage, New Zealand has marginal influence despite rating among the top countries for “peace, order and good government” on comparative surveys such as the World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators (to be published next month) the Sustainable Governance Indicators, and the Global Peace Index. At the other extreme, China with its mediocre ratings has extreme influence.  What may well give a new perspective to “good government” is the White Paper issued by China’s Government on Tuesday. This announces the “path of peaceful development”  that China is to follow. As the China Post explains… ” China does not seek hegemony and is a reliable stakeholder in pursuit of world peace and development…”

This concept apparently means that … “China will seek development in a scientific, independent, open, peaceful, cooperative and common manner”.  The paper reports that the misunderstanding and suspicion aroused by its growing power and prominence is not what China wants.  The White Paper reflects the commitment …”to cooperation with others based on equality and reciprocity”.

A definition of good government from a New Zealand perpsective would include reference to a respect for the rule of law, support for the democratic process, and commitment by officials to the spirit of service. These have a variable application in China.  China expects loyal service from its officials, and increasingly is combatting corrupt practices. A leading article in The China Daily yesterday reflects a growing focus on the rule of law, through a criticism of poor legal services… “Wrong court decisions have to be corrected and incompetent judges must be disqualified… If our judicial apparatus cannot protect justice, our society will be irredeemably damaged”. Not the complete package sought by the World Justice Project, but “getting there”.

Nonetheless China remains at arms length from the advantages of the democratic process. This is evident from the China Daily yesterday.  Pages 16, 17 and 18 contain the full text of the White Paper on China’s peaceful development. This is may be good stuff, but its publication in this way demonstrates how a commercial newspaper may well be an organ of the State when required.  Except for three photographs, the pages comprise 18 columns of what many may consider a comforting commitment by China’s Government to spur economic development and cooperation around the globe. In democratic societies, few since the demise of Victorian pamphleteers, would consider it the stuff of a daily newspaper.

The heartening sentence that concludes the White Paper is that …”The Chinese people will make unremitting efforts with other peoples to bring about a bright future for mankind…” The content suggests a commitment to peace, order and good government on an international scale.