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  • Dec 22, 2014
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My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2012, 2:58am

Little hope for progress without visionary politicians

As a Cantonese saying goes, rice cooked by the aunt next door is always tastier. That may be why people always think Western city-states or countries are better run than their own. Still, sometimes the aunty next door really does cook better rice. So, what are those states worth emulating?

Among social scientists, this problem is sometimes called "getting to Denmark", after a classic paper by two World Bank social scientists who pointed out Denmark has most if not all of the social, political and economic institutions a developed country can desire, making it stable, peaceful, wealthy, social-democratic, anti-discriminatory and mostly free of corruption.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the probability theorist and literary auteur, prefers Switzerland, arguing its decentralised political-social structure allows it to experiment, adapt in times of crisis and learn from past mistakes.

In Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the powers that be usually single out Singapore. There are many similarities and its "executive-led" government can only make our government salivate with envy. But there is a fundamental difference: While Singaporeans may have greater formal voting rights, Hong Kong society is thoroughly democratic. Following Singapore's example would only exacerbate the inherent conflict between our non-elected government and democratic society.

Maybe it's because my children are now completely into K-Pop and my wife has nicknamed one of our cats Gangnam Kitty. I have been studying South Korea's history and have developed great admiration for its people. It is often overlooked as one of history's great nation-building projects.

Out of the ashes of the Korean war, the South created one of the region's great economies and then fashioned one of its most vibrant democracies. My neighbour - not my aunt - will only drive Kia cars. The flat-screen in my living room is produced by LG. Samsung is starting to eat Apple for lunch in the smartphone business. Korea developed under authoritarianism, but thrives under democracy.

Out of benign British colonialism and preferential treatment by Beijing, perhaps Hong Kong too would follow that path if only we could produce a new breed of competent - dare I dream - visionary politicians.


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This article is now closed to comments

1.On what grounds you described South Korea as an authoritarian state?I think most people would not agree to that.I really doubt your ability as a veteran journalist.
2.Not every democratic state can sustain economic development,it is not a must.I would not say China is a democratic state,but her economic achievement is remarkable.For the Philippines,it is widely said economic development there is not well.
3.Your gag is "rice next door is more yummy";I would like to remind you another Cantonese saying:"自己文章,人家老婆",the meaning is one's essay is always better,while someone's wife is always better too.As a veteran script writer,you must be an eternal believer of that proverb,so you always believe your essay is always good,and always think of someone's wives (Korean women,Korean products),neglecting your own,legally wedded wife (I don't know whether the Korean will also think of your wife in a way as you think of the Korean people or stuff).
Someone mentioned Bo Xilai.
Bo Xilai is no different from politicians in China or the West, whose goal is advance his own goals and careers.
Here is a Chinese leader bananas love to hate, Deng Xiaoping, whom I described in my recent email to friends:
"But nothing is farther from the truth when it comes to Deng Xiaoping's desire to leave his name in history -- at least not in the only way Westerners know.
Deng campaigned tirelessly against personality cult. Mao's cult wrought catastrophic damages on China during the Great Leap and Cultural Revolution. Deng's legacy is a quiet transformation of China into a stable government by due process and continuous institution building. There are no Deng Xiaoping airports, bridges, boulevards, hospitals, universities, etc. Not even a statue of his in any building or square commemorating him. Is he no longer revered? Of course not. But he eplicitly forbade his lieutenants do any such thing after his death. That's perhaps the great attribute anyone could pay to the greatest world leader in 20th Century. Deng also had the wisdom to know that any rule or law he laid down wouldn't be good in another 10 years. He wanted our nation to be a perpetual dynasty evolving with the environment but without the encumbrances of illegitimate heredity -- are the princelings listening? -- and the violence of revolutions. He saw a new way. But the West doesn't.
Eat you heart out, China bashers!"
Why don't Alex write about India and Philippines, both full-fledged democracies, far more (by surface perception at least) democratic than mainland China?
"developed under authoritarianism, but thrives under democracy" is a beautiful formulation. Perhaps there is such a thing as pre-mature democracy. I'd rather China become an authoritarian giant than a democratic India.
shouken said, ‘I'd rather China become an authoritarian giant…’
It is already an ‘authoritarian giant’. The question is whether it is working for the 1.3billion people and whether they are happy or not.
You would probably find that the percentage of government satisfaction is higher in China than in many Western countries. The question isn't whether the people are happy or not (because a majority are content) but whether it can remove the social issues (corruption, pollution, etc.) and further improve the lives of its people.
I thought this article would be about the 18th National Congress of China when I read the title…
Alex said, “Little hope for progress without visionary politicians…” This rings true even more so for the mainland with its huge population of 1.3billion people. Where are their ‘visionary politicans’? No doubt there are many, but, ironically, I guess many are rejected during their rise BECAUSE OF their ‘visionary’ talents.
Is this a veiled reference to Bo Xilai? I myself and many of my colleagues adore this guy, because he seems just very moderately leftist. And if the focus is people, why should not any politician be left-leaning. We need rigorous leadership like the kind he could have provided him given a chance. Evenjudging just by looks he is far handsome and energetic than the 7 elders on the Standing Committee.
you adore bo xi lai? you are truly mental.
‘Is this a veiled reference to Bo Xilai?’
No it is not.
Don't forget to include the free, independent nation of Taiwan as well where one needn't employ a VPN to read news or access social media




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