China Has the Democracy That it Deserves
In my last blog post, I asserted that rather than the antics of former president Donald Trump the greatest threat to democracy in America has always been the transfer of governmental decision-making into the hands of unaccountable private power. Moreover, I added that throughout American history, there had been an ongoing clash between pressure for more freedom and democracy coming from below and efforts at elite control and domination from above. At the same time, while American news organizations cannot exit the rabbit hole of true anti-Trump delirium and hold him accountable for the demise of democracy worldwide, China has been attempting to market its version of democracy, which they call democracy with Chinese characteristics or consultative democracy. With America’s democracy faltering and the rise of China as a superpower, there is a real danger to the Western-style liberal democratic system as the standard model with the advent of China’s consultative democracy. President Joe Biden recently asserted that the current state of global politics is an inflection point, “ a moment when people need to choose between democratic forms of government and dictatorships or find the world forever changed.” America’s democracy is a representative democracy. In essence, political power is shared between the government and its citizens. This power is distributed through free and fair elections, legislative oversight, and protection against state coercion.
On the other hand, consultative democracy, political power is not shared and resides within the hands of the CCP. It is not single-party politics but a political system based on multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CCP. According to the CCP theoretical journal Qiushi, “consultative democracy was created by the CCP and the Chinese people as a form of socialist democracy.” It is committed to socialism while carrying forth China’s political and cultural traditions. When U. S President Joe Biden invited leaders of the free world to the virtual Summit for Democracy in December 2021, he did not invite China to participate. In response, Beijing held its “Advanced Democracy Summit” among Chinese and foreign scholars. The State Council also published the “Democracy That Works” white paper, which argues that democracy is infused in all aspects of China’s political process and that the political system under the leadership of the CCP is more democratic than the mortally bankrupt Western style of democracy. After the Cold War, scholars from the East and West believed that capitalism had won a final victory. History would end with Western-style liberal democratic systems in every country. This was not the case in the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, despite the breakdown of prior political systems. Moreover, when attempting to adopt liberal democratic reforms in other countries in Latin America, Asia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, those trying to implement the reforms have encountered great difficulties.
In my sociology classes at Columbia University, the idea of a society regarded as a living organism resonated with me. Plato, Aristotle, Comte, and Durkheim discussed the concept in great detail. According to the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, the more specialized function of an organism or society, the more significant development, and vice versa. The core areas of society are culture, politics, and economics. Societal health depends on the interworking of these three activities. At the same time, not all societies are alike. With this in mind, many questions are raised. First, is it possible to “transplant” western-style democracy or economic systems like capitalism in any nation regardless of geographic location? Second, is western-style democracy something right for all of humanity? Third, does a non-liberal form of democracy actually exist? Transplanted Western-style democracy would work in a nation like China if its citizens demanded it. Still, they are either content with their current system or unwilling to challenge the CCP to change it. I do not think that western-style democracy is an expected value for all humanity, and Singapore is an example of a non-liberal form of democracy that seems to be working. I have a friend who currently lives in the United States but also spent many years in Singapore. He told me that, as best as he could discern, there is little to no corruption, at least not as much as he believed was a part of the Chinese government. While he admitted the citizens of Singapore do not have the freedoms of American citizens, he thought the government addressed their needs. Although he prefers the American system, he was thoroughly satisfied with his life in Singapore.
Additionally, he thought that if China learned from Singapore’s example, they would have a system that works better for Chinese people than the American model of democracy. The possibility of being accused of resorting to faulty generalizations notwithstanding, I believe there is much more to the different ways that democracy changes when moving around the world than the current binary narrative that America promulgates. I think the best way to understand the situation is to think more about governance. Governance and democracy are two different things. Democracy happens to be a part of how America governs. Just because United States citizens have a role in electing their leaders, it does not follow that those leaders will render decisions equitable and amenable to all Americans.
In contrast, a Russian tsar, Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping might satisfy the needs of the people they rule. Still, because a revolution can only challenge their power makes the American system of democracy superior to all other forms. My use of the word rule is vital. United States politicians do not rule over American citizens. However imperfect our American system might be, as Ludwig Von Mises asserted, “by means of election and parliamentary arrangement, the change in government is executed smoothly and without friction, violence or bloodshed.”
On the other hand, the Chinese critique of American democracy has a great degree of truth. Within it resides a path that America can use to rejuvenate its democracy to its past glory. This does not infer that I am anti-American(whatever that means) or that I support authoritarian dictators. The fact that I can speak in this way about my country without repercussion proves the superiority of our system.
When reflecting on the United States’ policy towards China over the last 50 years, it is clear that American politicians have led us down a dangerous path. As John Mearsheimer argues, it has been a colossal strategic mistake, and “there is no comparable example of a great power actively fostering the rise of a peer competitor, and it is now too late to do much about it.” Washington promoted investment in China and welcomed the country into the global trading system, thinking it would become a peace-loving democracy and a responsible stakeholder in a U. S led international order. Mearsheimer continued, “ China had revisionist goals that opposed this order, and the mistake was allowing it to become powerful enough to act on them.”
Their plan was clear when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger established relations with China. Nixon didn’t put his arm around Kissinger and whisper in his ear, “you know, Henry, I envision a time in the future when Americans line up to see Shen Yun and eat dumplings at Wo Hop.” On the contrary, their main concern was providing American business people with cheap labor to undermine American workers. It is that simple. After 50 years of empowering them, Washington politicians suddenly worry about China. As an American who watched it happen in real-time, their sudden concern repulses me. Of course, the major mistake in the United States’ strategy towards China was not to make China’s integration into the liberal capitalist system more conditional. More conditional means demanding a transition towards a Western-style liberal democratic structure before anything else. Of course, making money and not being concerned for their citizens has always been the manifest function of American and Chinese relations. Unfortunately, the latent function is a new Cold War. In 2022, China is taking the Nixon/Kissinger role on the world stage. With Xi Jinping’s ascension to the CCP General Secretary position in 2012, China has sought more influence in international organizations and expanded its power through the Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure investment program. China has also adopted more repressive policies at home, like arresting activists and lawyers, feminists, and pastors of Christian congregations.
Moreover, they have placed Muslim Uyghur residents of the northwest region of Xinjiang into coercive “education” camps and imposed draconian security laws in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. At the same time, despite the new Cold War connotations, the situation is different because China, at least to date, is not seeking to impose its value system on the world. Also, the United States and China have profound economic and educational ties that make them more interdependent than the U. S. and the Soviet Union ever were. As Pat Buchanan argued, given the nature of the Chinese regime, we are not fated to be friends, yet we need not be enemies. The world is big enough for both of us, and it is in the interests of both to do as America and Russia did in the second half of the twentieth century and Britain and Germany failed to do in the first half; avoid the apocalypse that could destroy us both. Although I have never been to China and rely solely on the reporting of various news agencies regarding how the CCP treats its people, I would argue that respecting basic human rights and fundamental freedoms is the linchpin of any system of governance. Helping broker a deal that might end the war in Ukraine and rectify any alleged human rights violations would go a long way in China’s quest for global influence and give legitimacy to their version of democracy with Chinese characteristics. Most importantly, the people’s will must be heard and addressed and human rights respected. If this does not happen, China and its citizens will have the democracy they deserve.