China compared with Western Democracy
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
At present, China is displacing the United States as the leading economic power and is preparing to establish the superiority of its hybrid political model that clearly distinguishes it from Western democracies. Just a few days ago, at the XIX Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, its re-elected President Xi Jinping declared that “The endless political criticism, the disputes and changes in Western democracy have held back economic and social progress by ignoring the interests of citizens. So China does not need to import the political system of bankrupt parties existing in other countries. He contrasted ‘representative democracy’ that prevails in the West with ‘consensus democracy’ operating in China.
At that same Congress, Wong Huning was appointed top official theoretician of the Permanent Bureau of the Politburo of the Communist Party, the highest organ of the Chinese State. People call Wong Huning the brain of the three supreme leaders, according to Yun Sun, a China expert at the Washington-based Stimson Center.
Huning is a scholar of Western thought, but unlike many Chinese intellectuals who were looking to the West for the strategy of openness that Deng Xiaoping initiated in 1979, Wang returned from his trips to the US convinced that Western democracy was not a good alternative as a political model for China.
In the late 1980s when the economy was becoming modernized, and when in the intellectual world of the time it was thought that there would be a worldwide ‘Westernization’ of politics, Wong promoted the idea of ’neo-authoritarianism’ based on the fact that a country as big as China required a ‘firm hand’ in order to achieve prosperity. That coincided with the needs of the leadership of his Communist Party and as a result he achieved significant political ascendancy.
That coincided with the meteoric career of Eric X. Li, an academic and investment advisor who shocked Western businessmen with his praise of the Chinese economic system.
Eric said that since the fall of the USSR the Western world has been consumed with a ‘democratic messianism’ similar to that of Soviet communism, which, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, thought that political model was appropriate for all five continents.
Li pointed out that the history of Western democracy was barely two centuries old, which was less than the most short-lived of the Chinese dynasties. He outlined a series of current examples, from Brexit to the election of Trump, and warned that democracy had become a cycle of ‘elect and regret because electoral calendars force the party in power to privilege short-term demands. This has caused China’s savings rate to be 40% of its GDP and that of the US to be 13%, which leads to very different growth figures in each country.
One could say, without any significant doubt, that Mao Tse Tung made China independent, Deng Xiaoping made it prosperous and Xi Jingping wants to make it great again. So the appointment of Wong and Eric’s success coincide with the renaissance of Confucius as the Aristotle of the East.
Confucius’s political vision was similar to Europe’s ‘enlightened despotism’ in a meritocratic society ruled by an almighty emperor and aided by a very competent bureaucracy whose members were picked in a competition. It is very similar to the current function of the Chinese Communist Party whose regulations do not allow the voluntary signing up of new members without a prior voluntary capacity screening that is a contemporary version of the ‘mandarins’.
This new advocacy of Confucius is trying to combat the current crisis of values in China, with its aftermath of corruption that occurred at the end of the communist utopia and the rise of consumerism in Chinese society. Xi Jingping says that if moral standards are low, if discipline and ethics are not controlled, not only will failure result but the tragedy that happened to Emperor Chu when he was assassinated in 202 BC could happen again.
In addition to these ethical and behavioral elements, Chinese culture can incorporate exogenous elements and adapt them to its idiosyncrasies. Korean thinker Byung-Chue Ham says that in China there’s not the sharp difference between capitalism and populism that exists in the West, but both can be adapted in a way that is not radical.
Shanzai says that in time Chinese Shanzai communism will change and become a very special political formula that could be called ‘Shanzai democracy’. Therefore it should be noted that in China, democracy is not associated with the popular election of leaders, but with the rule of law and in particular with the independence of judicial magistrates to control instances of abuse of power by state officials.
When comparing the political systems of China and the West, today’s intellectuals are searching for formulas that combine citizen participation with the accountability of leaders. The aim is to implement worldwide political models similar to the Western system, to which can be added the long-term policies prescribed by the Chinese model.
Addendum: Everything indicates that the Western model of democracy is being surpassed by the social ethics of the Chinese.