Difficulties in practicing universal values

Even though China  is governed by the ruling Communist Party of China, the debate about freedom and democracy  or “universal values”  (another term often used in Chinese discourse) has gone unabated.  Many of the so-called public intellectuals  in China are advocate of the “universal values”. 

Following is my  liberal translation of the article from Professor Zhang Weiwei  in 4th. Media  who argues that the so-called universal values are not universal and those developing countries that try to adopt them blindly them in recent times have fallen onto hard time.  Here’s my translation:


Over the years, the so-called “universal values” ​​have been strongly promoted by West countries in international politics. They use a variety of means to impose and at times even resort to force  in order to export these values onto the rest of the world.  Despite their utmost efforts, the results have largely been  lacklustre and even catastrophic at times.

From procedural to conceptual difficulties

“Universal value”, as the name implies, should be acceptable by the great majority of people in the world. But  the international community has never really agree on its definition though Western governments and their mainstream media often proclaim that democracy , freedom, human rights are “universal values ​​”. One should ask a simple question: In addition to democracy, freedom, human rights,  are there any other “universal values”? For example, many people in the world would agree that “peace” or non-violence should be “universal value” too, but the major Western countries, especially the United States will not accept it. Also the  Chinese people attach great importance to  “harmony” , “benevolence “, ” responsibility “, “elimination of poverty ” and other values​​. Can these become  “universal values” too?

Since there are many countries with diverse cultures and value systems from the West, which values ​​should be proclaimed as universal?  In other words, for “universal values​​” to be universal, we must first solve the “procedural legitimacy” problem: If something is to be “universal”, then all nations and people should be find it acceptable, it means the international community should adopt a generally acceptable procedure to establish it, such as an international conference to discuss or even negotiate, and ultimately the formation of an international consensus to determine which values ​​are shared by all humanity. Universal values​​ ought to be agreed by all, not just by a few countries who exploit it to further their own political, economic and strategic interests at the expense of others.

“Universal values​​” face another hurdle brought by the different type of democracy, freedom and human rights being practiced. For example, is the money politics aspect of American democracy where candidates spend millions on political campaign and political donations acceptable to all? While America advocates freedom of expression, it carries out massive on-line surveillance its citizens and millions of people all over the world. Even the telephones conversation of leaders from friendly countries is not spared from monitoring activities. Should we emulate such freedom of speech characteristics from US? As for human rights, the United States launched a war against Iraq in order to promote human rights in Iraq. But  this act of war is a serious violation of the human rights of the Iraqi people given that over one hundred thousand civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by this illegal war. In fact this one of the most serious violations of human rights of the century.

One also has to aware of the use of abstract concepts in Western discourse. For example every society aspire for democracy.  But which model of democracy to practice?  Is  the Western democratic system a  “universal value”?  However we know the Western democracy is a product of the unique culture and history of Western societies. The non-Western world and their societies could benefit from the experiences and lessons of democracy-building in the West, but if they copy the Western model, there will be disappointments and  failures. Today the West’s financial crisis and the debt crisis shows that Western democratic system itself contains a number of significant flaws.

Problems in practice: color revolutions “hope” to “disappoint”

In order to promote “universal values”, the major Western countries promoted colour revolution  in Georgia,  Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan . This led to regime change in these countries which then led to political instability, economic decline and virtually no improvement in  living standards. These countries with  “color revolutions” are falling rapidly.

In 2003, the so-called rose revolution broke out in Georgia. The then-United States President Bush proclaimed Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili as hero of democracy. When Bush visited Georgia, he praised Georgia as a “beacon of democracy”. But the majority of  Georgian did not find their lives improved after the colour revolution. Currently 27% of Georgian live below poverty line.

In 2004, the Western-dominated pollsters challenged Ukraine election official poll results. This sparked the so-called “Orange Revolution” that resulted in pro West politicians coming into power. But they didn’t last long. Due to high inflation, worsening economic problems and  surging corruptions, the deposed candidate Viktor Yanukovich made a comeback by winning  the 2010 presidential election. The  2009 United States Pew Center poll shows that only 30% per cent support “democracy” in Ukraine, lower than the 1991 figure of  42%.

In 2005, the so-called Tulip Revolution broke out in Kyrgyzstan. The United States political establishment and media rejoiced, regarded it a victory for freedom and democracy. The  “revolution” was brought about by  social unrest and political infighting  between the different parts of south and north of the country. After the outbreak of the revolution, the situations  worsen. Less than five years after the revolution broke out, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown, and armed conflicts reignited. The upheavals   brought in enormous instability and negative outcomes  that continues to this day.

In short, the “colour revolution” results can be summed as : from high hope to despair. This feeling of despair is not only experienced by most ordinary people of these countries,  but even by those that promoted  “colour revolutions” in the West and their supporters.

Difficulty in practice: From Arabian spring to Arabian winter

Starting in late 2010, the  West Asia North Africa Arab countries experienced  a series of anti-Government ‘democratic’ uprising , spreading from Tunisia, Libya, Yemen,  Egypt and other countries that resulted in the  overthrowing of ruling governments. This wave of regime change is described as Arab Spring by Western media, amidst jubilations and chant of  the impending birth of a new Arab rising. But just after  two years, the Arab Spring has fallen into Arabian Winter.  Libya was involved in civil war with the country descended in many fighting factions each other on top of a weak government; Tunisia’s economy was badly hit, and the secular and Islamist factions are still fighting for power; Yemen also experiences  tribal and sectarian wars (between Sunni sent and Shiite).

The recent rollercoaster experience in Egypt is  most compelling. Waves of anti-Government demonstrations started in  early 2011 to bring down  long-time President Hosni Mubarak. In the 2012 general elections, Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected. But dispute between the  secularists and Islamists intensified with  neither side willing to compromise. The regime change brought about political instability and hammered Egypt’s already fragile economy. It experienced capital flight, many businesses have close down, and there was severe decline in industrial production.  Prices soared along with crime rates. In July 2013, the army deposed the democratically elected President Mursi, bringing further confusion and instability. The army coup  led to killings of at least a thousand Mursi supporters. The prospects for Egypt are not promising at all.

To sum up, the “colour revolution” and the “Arab spring” brought about political turmoil, social unrest and economic decline. In fact, this is not unexpected. First, the introduction these universal values of freedom and democracy does not resolve the inherent deeper problems within these countries.  For example the Arab nations are faced with population explosion, poverty and economic structural problems. Promotion of these “universal values” actually promote  conflicts within Arab society as it intensified their differences.

Secondly, the universal values being promoted  by the West and supported by elites of those countries, is oriented at political change only.  In reality a nation is a much more complex system which also encompasses the economic as well as social dimensions. But it is much more difficult to change the other two components.  Therefore this superficial adoption of Western universal values will ultimately lead to failure.

Thirdly, international political practice shows that in countries with a relatively backward economy, if the government is unable to gain sufficient consensus to develop the country, but place all hopes on freedom and democracy to solve their problems, then the probability of success is zero. This one-dimensional political change will only generate unrealistic expectations, and when the government is unable to meet  expectations of the people, they become bitter and conflicts easily breakout within the society. The entire country might collapse and breaking up from the  political and economic crisis, and thus becoming even more dependant on the West. This is basically the game played by the Western countries, and they will continue to support the “universal value”, playing one side against another. Ultimately the whole country will become their vassal state.

China firmly believes that it should travel on its own independent path. Those nations that have experienced setbacks from their ‘universal value’ superstition should draw lessons from it, and boldly explore their own suitable paths in order to achieve desired developments that bring prosperity and happiness to the people.



About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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