Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Democracy Protests in Mongolia

"As someone who has worked in and with the country of Mongolia and its people for the past three years, I think that the protests are fascinating to watch, because they are actually protests for better democracy. As another blogger rightly pointed out, Mongolia has had a democratic system since 1990 - a change also brought about by peaceful protests. Mongolians have voted eight times in Presidential and Parliamentiary elections since then. "

Gateway Pundit has the story on democracy demonstrations in Mongolia. A country on the periphery of China, with an incipient, fifteen year old democracy? Sounds good to me!

It begs the question: Why is Taiwan the object of such obsessive interest from Beijing, while Mongolia escapes the irredentist net? Having declared independence in 1911, after two centuries under Qing Dynasty rule, they were "liberated" by Soviet troops in 1921, and allowed to form a country, closely aligned with the Soviet block. Mongolia challenges everybody's theories: We neo-con influenced commentators would seem to be shown up as wrong in saying that democracy is the real issue here; while our Chinese interlocutors would have to answer - given the history outlined above, why is it not a matter of non-negotiable doctrine that Mongolia is "Chinese soil"?

It seems unavoidable to me that it's specifically the fact of a Han Chinese democracy at the periphery that stirs up a hornet's nest in Beijing. Historically, central Chinese governments have been capable of maintaining a surprisingly relaxed attitude toward non-Han areas on the periphery, even as they condescended to them culturally. Time for a little Terrillblogging: "Surprisingly, the loose reign and the sense of superiority were not deeply contradictory, especially in dealings with the culturally alien people of the steppe. The conceit that made the Chinese court feel superior to the Barbarians inclined the court to keep its distance from people of whom Emperor Tai Zong said, with distaste: 'These people go about with flowing hair, and it is their habit to eat food uncooked.'" It is the lack of this cultural condescension toward Taiwanese that seems to make democracy in Taiwan such a fraught issue. The cultural well water that must not be polluted includes the Taiwanese, but not the Mongolians.