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Home > Business > Business Headline > Report

Judging history, Chinese style

BS Bureau in New Delhi | January 29, 2005 13:03 IST

The Chinese have their own way of defending whatever they do. At a session on China at the WEF annual meeting, there was a reference to students protests in that country and to Zhao Ziyang, the former Chinese party leader who passed away early this month after paying a heavy price for his role in the students movement in the late 1980s leading to the Tiananmen Square siege.

Wu Jianmin, president of the China Foreign Affairs University, had a ready-made answer: "The best judge is history itself. From 1989 to the present, so much water has passed under the bridge. Do Chinese live better or worse? The answer is clear: History has made its judgement."

Wu Jianmin also surprised many participants by questioning the general belief that China while embracing economic reform has been slow at ushering in political reform.

While citing the abolition of the people's commune system as an example of a major political change, he argued that democracy should progress at a speed defined by conditions in a particular country.

"I don't believe there is a universal model of democracy suitable to the whole world," he added.

Negative vote

While the Chinese got away with this, the leaders of some Islamic countries like Pakistan (Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz), Malaysia (Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak), Egypt (Prime Minister Ahmed Mahmoud Nazif) and Iran (Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar) came in for sharp questioning by participants when they claimed that they had managed to institute their own brand of democracy in their respective countries and it was unfair to judge them by a definition of democracy coined by the developed world.

While all these leaders put the blame on how Islam's image had got a raw deal, questioners (who also belonged to Islamic countries) from the floor at this session put the blame on the Islamic leaders who had failed in their primary task of instituting genuine democracy and leading from the front.

While the leaders on the dais tried to defend themselves, it was clear from the audience response that they had oversold their positions, which had few takers.

Rich CEOs, poor intent

The controversial issue of the chief executive officer's salary has resurfaced at the WEF annual meeting. This time too (on an earlier occasion it was N R Narayana Murthy of Infosys), it is an Indian who has raised the issue at a session on whether businesses have a noble purpose.

Rakesh Khurana, professor, Harvard Business School, alleged that there was considerable "disconnect" between the CEO rhetoric and their behaviour. And he had figures to establish his case.

In 1960, he said, CEOs generally earned about twice the average salary of the President of the United States. Today, that figure has spurted to a level that is almost 550 times that of the average worker.

Khurana's final shot: "It is not that easy to build trust when people observe executives taking princely sums at the expense of employees, research and development and shareholders."

Outsourcing logic

The perils of building a global workforce came to the fore at a session on the mobility of labour.

While a large part of the discussion focused on how the Mode 4 accord (a WTO agreement allowing free movement of natural persons) would not be able to solve the problems caused by restrictions on free flow of labour across countries, a disconcerting reality check was offered by Sharan Burrow, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

According to her, the Mode 4 discussions are a distraction. The developed world's complaints of being swamped by immigrants are false, she claimed.

What was her explanation? "If all the illegal immigrants in California were sent home, the state economy would collapse by breakfast time, and if they were sent home from Britain, London would come to a halt by lunch time," she said.

Her suggestion was that the employers and the trade unions should recognise the problem and work together.

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