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Liberal democracies may be leading downward, according to renowned Chinese political scientist

China’s rise as a global superpower over the span of just a short few decades has been met with both praise and criticism from the international community. The country has made advancements in technology, infrastructure, economics, and overall governance through a political system that rejects the widely-accepted ideologies of its peers — and its leadership shows no signs of compromise or change.

Eric Li, Chairman of Chengwei Capital and widely-known political scientist, makes his defense of China’s political system in his book Party Life: Chinese Governance and the World Beyond Liberalism. The book was published in October 2023, and the FCC was the first venue Li chose to talk about the book in March.

Speaking at the FCC alongside Correspondent Board Member Karen Koh, Li explained his political analyses by first outlining the three major crises that China has faced in the past decade: official corruption, economic inequality, and environmental degradation. China is only able to combat these issues through centralized, top-down policies.

“We need stronger leadership to correct the three major problems we talked about… Some people don’t agree with me. There could be a time — circumstances change — that we need more distributive power. That’s possible too, but it’s not now,” Li said.

Li also said that while “tremendous” improvements have been made on these issues, they are not “totally resolved”. Still, he finds that the Chinese government’s efforts to improve these three areas are proof that a political system unlike liberal democracies can still succeed.

When asked about his book’s overall theory on the future of liberalism, Li hypothesized that liberal democracies like the United States and other Western nations are leading civilization downwards when compared to the centralized Chinese government.

While Li admitted to being a believer of liberalism, free press, and elections during the 1990s, he doesn’t entirely agree with those concepts anymore. Given that he was speaking at the FCC — Hong Kong’s only press club — he further elaborated on his thoughts on freedom of speech, press, and information.

“I think press plays an important role in our society,” Li began. “Media [and] journalism are important, but if not regulated and managed well, it could do a lot of harm. It could harm actual human beings.”

To him, speech is an act, and if left unregulated, speech could result in disastrous consequences.

“Words matter. Words harm. And words must be constrained and regulated in a healthy, forward-looking society,” Li said.

Li was also asked about the United States’ recent proposal to ban Tik Tok, the international version of the popular video-sharing app Douyin from mainland China. Both Tik Tok and Duoyin are owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance, yet cannot be accessed in Hong Kong.

Li reiterated the stance of former US President Donald Trump: don’t ban Tik Tok because Facebook is worse. Facebook, officially known as Meta, is inaccessible from mainland China, yet like Tik Tok has also come under fire for misinformation, hate speech, and other harmful content.

“It’s not a glorious case for freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is in trouble in America. It’s in deep trouble because it’s causing so much harm,” Li concluded.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

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