West fails to understand China’s democracy

By Li Junru Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/24 19:01:16

Photo: Xinhua News Agency

Mutual trust is the foundation of cooperation, and misunderstanding reduces trust. In complex China-US relations, some Americans' misunderstanding of China has undermined the two countries' mutual trust. 

Both China and the US are big powers, but they differ in history, culture and social systems. Since China's reform and opening-up began in the late 1970s, a great number of Chinese, especially the young, have been to the US for travel, study and work, which has opened up their horizons and helped them understand the US better. This has bridged the gap and laid a ground for cooperation in various fields. 

China's experience has proved that trust between two disparate countries can be established.

But new challenges have emerged. As the Chinese economy has grown rapidly, anxiety, disappointment and fear have spread in US political circles and society. Such strong reactions stem from the lack of understanding and even misunderstanding of China.

The vast majority of US citizens, including many politicians, have never been to China. All they know is that the country is led by the Communist Party of China (CPC). And the image of the CPC in their minds is represented by the one of the Soviet Union, whose dark side was frequently exposed during the Cold War. Many Americans' misunderstanding of China and the Party originates exactly from how they understand the CPC with their "knowledge" of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

Although both are called "communist parties," the CPC and the CPSU faced different historical conditions and missions when they were born. Thus the CPC has its own distinctive characteristics - It has always persisted in seeking truth from facts, the mass line, and independence. Learning about the CPC with an understanding of the CPSU will certainly lead to misunderstandings. The key to understanding China is to understand the CPC.

In various countries around the world, few people get the whole picture of China. Even if some do know the country, they can hardly understand the system under which the CPC operates. They are confused about why China does not adopt a multiparty or two-party system. In the US, some people even question the difference between China's party system and dictatorship or autocracy.

China's party system is neither a multi- or two-party one, nor a one-party one. China has adopted a system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation led by the CPC. "Multi-party" refers to eight non-Communist parties of China. Just as US' two-party system and France's multiparty system are shaped by their histories, China's party system is also a legacy of the country's own history.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, many non-Communist parties' leaders suggested disbanding their parties, but then Chinese leader Mao Zedong considered it necessary for those parties to exist for a long term and supervise each other. Then after the reform and opening-up, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping added "sincere treatment of each other" and "the sharing of weal and woe" to this principle.

The formation and perfection of the Chinese political party system has fully proved that it has nothing to do with dictatorship. Its essence is democratic politics with Chinese characteristics.

Many people in other countries often wonder: Since China also advocates democracy, why doesn't it adopt the Western-style political system? Why not conduct competitive elections?

A few years ago, the world was inundated with the clamor for democracy — the collapse of the Soviet Union, the upheaval in Eastern Europe, "color revolutions," and the "Arab Spring." Although they arose due to different causes and had diverse results, and although not all people in those countries and regions ended up enjoying the right to democracy, these events have all been crowned "democracy" in Western media reports and academic articles in Western countries. Democracy has come into vogue. Although earned at a great price in some countries, democracy has become a luxury which can be enjoyed by only a few people.

In the US and Europe, while many believe that China is void of democracy, some get puzzled: China lacks democracy, but why does the Chinese economy, especially its market economy, develop rapidly and actively, even surpassing some Western countries?

It must be noted that to develop, a market economy must let citizens enjoy the right to freedom, including being free to choose a career, start a business, and to move. It must also entitle citizens to equal rights, including equal enjoyment of the rights stipulated in the Constitution, an equal mechanism for the exchange of goods, and an equal environment for exchanging information. Such freedom and equality is exactly a demonstration of democracy.

It is not an easy task to truly figure out what democracy is, and China has long been exploring its meaning. Every Chinese knows that replacing autocracy with democracy is a historical process. A consensus on whether democracy is needed has been reached in China long ago. What the country is further exploring is what kind of democracy will be more conducive to China's sustainable and sound development.

It is not true that China does not conduct competitive elections as many Westerners question. At the current stage, China adopts an electoral system combining direct and indirect elections.

According to the State Council, "Deputies to the people's congresses of cities not divided into districts, municipal districts, counties, autonomous counties, townships, ethnic minority townships and towns are elected directly by their constituencies. Deputies to the NPC [National People's Congress] and the people's congresses of the provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the Central Government, cities divided into districts, and autonomous prefectures are elected by the people's congresses at the next lower level." These elections are all competitive. And China is still constantly improving its electoral democracy. 

Regardless of electoral democracy's advantages, including transparency and competitiveness, it has flaws that should not be ignored. The biggest problem is that it cannot truly reflect the essence of democracy. Electoral democracy generally follows the rule that the minority is subordinate to the majority. Although everyone has the right to vote, only some voters' appeal can be heard. 

The solution is to combine electoral democracy with consultative democracy.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, under the CPC Central Committee with President Xi Jinping as the core, China has advanced extensive, multilevel and institutionalized development of consultative democracy, and has adopted a coordinated approach to promoting consultations carried out by political parties, people's congresses, government departments, people's organizations, communities, and social organizations. In this way, a democratic political system combining electoral democracy and consultative democracy has been established.

To look at China as a country without elections or democracy is to grossly misunderstand it. The People's Republic of China has been a democratic country where the people run the country since the beginning. It has always been struggling to uphold and improve democracy, and has produced many of its own creations.

Such creations belong not only to China, but also to the world. They are China's contribution to human political civilization. For many in the Western countries who are now considering how to improve their democratic system, they can be studied as a case. 

All roads lead to Rome. Why is China not allowed to carve out a way with its own characteristics?

The author is former vice president of the CPC Central Committee's Party School. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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