World renowned experts: What is genuine and good democracy
Published: Dec 03, 2021 08:52 AM
Crumbling democracy Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Crumbling democracy Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The US so-called Summit for Democracy has been widely questioned by the international community for quite some time. Claimed to be the leader of "free world," the US has empowered itself the right to define "democracy" by organizing this "Summit," and has also asked participants to make commitments according to the US democratic "index." Is the US entitled to define democracy? Who should judge whether a country is democratic or not? What is a genuine democracy or good democracy? It is noted that the Permanent Missions of China and Russia co-hosted a Webinar on "Democracy & Human Rights: Common Goals with Diversified Approaches," let's hear the insights of some world renowned experts and scholars.

Li Shimo, a Chinese political scholar, pointed out that the COVID-19 death toll in the participants of the "Summit" consists of 82 percent of the world's total. That's why so many people are pessimistic about the state of democracy. It is a mistake to draw an equation between liberalism and democracy. Liberal regimes are failing democracy, plagued by persistent inequality, political corruption, total loss of social cohesion, lack of trust in government and institutions, as well as incompetent government. The world needs a better and more inclusive way of measuring democracy: not by procedures but by outcomes. Democracy's normative goal must be to deliver satisfaction to a vast majority of the people. International pollsters are told by a vast majority of Chinese people that they are generally satisfied with how the country is being governed. We can say that China is clearly generating more democratic outcomes for its people and thereby more democratic than America at the moment. 

Martin Jacques, a Britain scholar and political commentator, stressed that the discussion about democracy must be global, and in the era of globalization and climate change. While the Western democracies are consumed by the present, China thinks in the long term. Any form of governance only works if it can deliver for its people. China's successful response to the COVID-19 largely owes to its excellent governance skills and the strong cohesion of Chinese society. However, the failure to stop the pandemic in the US was because the government could not or would not play this role. Much closer relationship between the government and the people will be essential for any effective response. The Chinese governance is much better placed than Western governance to handle these challenges. Although China has never imposed its own model on others, more and more developing countries are learning from China. The West is concerned whether individual states are, in its terms, democratic, as it does not address whether the international system is democratic, and it will be unsustainable in the era of globalization. The Chinese proposition for a community with a shared future for humankind is thus fundamental to a new way of thinking about the world and democracy.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, Chairman of the Kuhn Foundation of the United States, who had over 30 years' observation of China and paid visits to over 100 Chinese cities, expressed that China deems democracy as one of the aspirations of the China's great rejuvenation. China believes that democracy is "a shared value of humanity" and is to be used to solve the problems that the people want to solve. The world misunderstands the Chinese political system. Democracy in the Party-led system involves absorbing public opinion via feedback mechanisms. Even though there are no elections in the Western sense, there is a good deal of engagement with different constituencies. The Communist Party of China, as the ruling organization, is not the equivalent of a ruling political party in Western systems, where political parties represent only a certain group of voters and are time-bounded by election cycles. In enhancing whole-process people's democracy, the Party has a higher and broader obligation to enhance the living standards and personal well-being of all Chinese citizens. This includes reforms, rule of law, transparency in government, public participation in governance, increasing democracy, and various freedoms and human rights. Foreigners may be surprised to learn that the Chinese leadership has considered poverty alleviation to be their most important task. Kuhn said he knows no other national leader who has made such an assertion. After China eliminated all extreme poverty in 2020, the country sets a broader, longer-range goal: common prosperity. All these exemplify human rights.

Ambassador Zamir Akram, Chair-Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council Working Group on the Right to Development, noted that democracy, human rights and development are closely linked, and no one has a monopoly on the definition of democracy. Democracy should not only be manifested by frequent elections, but also listen to the voices of poorest people and meet their development needs. For people who are deeply impoverished and suffering from hunger, the right to food is more important. 35 years after its adoption, the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development has not yet been effectively implemented worldwide, and the fundamental reason lies in the reluctance of developed countries to fulfill their promises to help developing countries.

Professor Marcos Cordeiro Pires from São Paulo State University of Brazil pointed out that there is no single path that the people of the world can take to achieve the goal of the common good. There are pillars on which sociability is consolidated, such as history, religion, and culture. The simple transplantation of foreign models does not guarantee effective adjustment in traditional structures. Western countries justify their exploitation, military intervention and sponsorship of coups d'état in several countries worldwide in the name of "universal values" and "defense of human rights." The current situation in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and other countries shows that the practice of imposing one's own system on others can only bring endless turmoil.

Ms. Natalia Narochnitskaya, president of the Foundation for the Study of Historical Perspective of Russia, believed that no civilization or institutions are superior over others. The international community should give some deeper thought on human rights and democracy. Civil and political rights are the first generation of human rights, while economic, social and cultural rights are the second generation, and the right to development is of the third. Ideas on democracy and human rights of different counties are naturally not the same due to their respective development stages. The Western attempts to monopolize ideology is against the common values and interests of the human society.

Following the discussion, ambassadors from developing countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Iran and Syria, shared their own stories about advancing democracy, improving people's livelihood and protecting human rights. They expressed that the attempt by Western countries to monopolize people's values is "ideology dictatorship," which is selfish, arrogant and dangerous. The attempt of some countries to overthrow legitimate governments of other countries with willful military intervention and aggression gravely violates international laws and the Charter of the United Nations. The international community should jointly oppose such actions.

As the Chinese adage goes, truth will emerge clearer from debates. Democracy is an outcome of the development of political civilizations and a common value of humanity. Different countries might have different philosophies and practices, but their goal of democracy should be the same: to make their people have better livelihoods and to make our home planet a better place to live. States should be free to choose the political systems and development path suited to their respective national conditions. Democracy and human rights should not be used as a tool by some certain countries to oppress others. History always makes a faithful record of people's pursuit and exploration of truth, and it will, in the long run, prove that the old trick of drawing ideological lines and dividing the world into rival groups is totally undesirable.

The author is a current affairs commentator based in Beijing. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn