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China's quest for legitimacy

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By Robert Skidelsky

LONDON ― Liberal democracy faces a legitimacy crisis, or so we are repeatedly told. People distrust government by liberal elites, and increasingly believe that the democracy on offer is a sham. This sentiment is reflected in the success of populists in Europe and the United States, and in the authoritarian tilt of governments in Turkey, Brazil, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

In fact, liberal democracy is not only being challenged in its European and American heartlands, but has also failed to ignite globally. Democracies, it is still widely believed, do not go to war with each other.

Speaking in Chicago in 1999, the United Kingdom's then-prime minister, Tony Blair, averred that, "The spread of our values makes us safer," prompting some to recall Francis Fukuyama's earlier prediction that the global triumph of liberal democracy would spell the end of history. The subsequent failure of Russia and China to follow the Fukuyama script has unsurprisingly triggered fears of a new Cold War. Specifically, the economic "rise of China" is interpreted as a "challenge" to the West.

On this reading, peaceful transfers of international power are possible only between states that share the same ideology. In the first half of the 20th century, therefore, Britain could safely "hand over the torch" to the U.S., but not to Germany. Today, so the argument goes, China poses an ideological as well as a geopolitical challenge to a decaying Western hegemony.

This perspective, however, is vigorously contested by the Chinese scholar Lanxin Xiang. In his fascinating new book "The Quest for Legitimacy in Chinese........

© The Korea Times