Chinese democracy has its own merits

By Zhang Shuhua Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/11 20:13:40

China is having its most important annual political event, the two sessions - a vivid manifestation of Chinese democracy.

Chinese-style democracy encompasses a broader concept than democracy in the West where the original idea was born. It is a part of political development that is composite and integrated in nature.

Chinese democracy differs from the monolithic concept of Western-style democracy, which is based on ballots and contest among political parties. China understands democracy as mobilizing the masses, building greater consensus and listening to the opinions of all sides. The purpose of promoting democracy is to advance political development, concentrate resources on accomplishing larger goals, deal with greater challenges and address people's concerns.

Compared with Western democracy, "consensus" of Chinese democracy replaces "division" in the former. Chinese "effectiveness" takes the place of Western "confrontation," and "negotiability" replaces "singularity."

Since the financial crisis of 2008, people in the West with insight have reflected upon their political system. They don't believe Western democracy is the benchmark in world politics any more. In recent years, some Western media outlets and politicians tend to say that Western democracy has succumbed to populism; Western democracy is ill; and Western democracy is dead. According to The Week, a British magazine, when German polling firm Dalia Research's Democracy Perception Index undertook a survey of 125,000 people from 50 countries, 64 percent living in democratic countries responded with "rarely" or "never" when asked whether they felt the government was acting in their interest. The Washington Post says, "Citizens, especially millennials, have less faith in the democratic system. They are more likely to express hostile views of democracy."

Actually, Western democracy is a stage for the minority. When Western democratic politics confronts problems, it sows the seeds of social strains. The dilemma Western politics finds itself in stems from the West's narrow understanding of democracy. Since Western democracy has been present for hundreds of years, it is time for the West to reflect. Without a rethink, the West will never get out of the quagmire.

For nearly 30 years after the Cold War, the West has intended to paint the world in the color of Western democracy, with the aim of realizing its geopolitical goals. However, what it produced is chaos caused by war, a flood of refugees, military confrontation, terror and bloodshed.

Currently, the problems that Western democracy is facing are big challenges to the academia and political circles of the West. Western politics has gone bankrupt and textbooks on the subject should be rewritten. Global intellectual elites need to rethink. In economics, market fundamentalism cannot be always trusted; in politics, the "monism" of Western democracy needs to be moved beyond. Furthermore, the rise and spread of populism and xenophobia are also strong challenges to Western democratic politics.

If these problems cannot be tackled, Western political chaos would last for a long time. To get rid of the politically difficult situation, the West must reflect on theory and adjust the mechanism. Actually, some ideas and moves of US President Donald Trump go against traditional Western understanding of democracy. Nevertheless, we still have no clue as to how the West can pull itself out of the political quagmire.

We do not expect the West to learn or draw from the experience of Chinese democracy, but we hope they will treat China's unique political model and culture on an equal footing. There are democratic elements in the Chinese political model. Chinese democracy cannot be understood and compared on the basis of Western democratic principles. Chinese democratic politics spans a wide meaning and pays more attention to good governance. 

When we study and compare democracy, every country's reality must be taken into account. Democracy is one of many political values and forms. What form should be applied depends on the nature of the country and its needs. 

Deglobalization and the refugee crisis and other contradictions are emblematic of divergences in political values and democracy. Democracy cannot be simplified and maligned. Western countries cannot export, promote, or sell Western-style democracy at will, while other countries cannot blindly imitate Western democracy as a template.

I insist democracy is historical, realistic, specific and national, which requires long-term nurturing and exploration.

The author is director of the Institute of Information Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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