Understanding China's democracy
By Mahnoor Makhdoom  ·  2023-04-03  ·   Source: NO.14 APRIL 6, 2023
Liu Xiya (left), a deputy to the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, who is also principal of Xiejiawan Primary School in Chongqing, collects opinions and suggestions from parents on the implementation of policies to reduce the after-school tutoring and homework burden on students, on February 24 (XINHUA)

Without any research and without learning much about the democratic systems in socialist republics, and above all, without realizing how much development China has accomplished under its concept of democracy, the West, particularly the United States, has constantly tried to impose its own values on China and feels that they are the sole criteria for democracy on planet Earth.

It is a fact that people cannot thrive under a system of which they do not approve, or a system that feels unsuitable for them. They can by no means feel happy or satisfied and it would become impossible for them to deliver even 10 percent of what the Chinese nation has achieved over the past decades.

Respect for choice 

China's view on democracy has been the subject of much debate in the international community. Some have very ignorantly criticized China's approach to governance, arguing that it stifles political freedom and human rights. However, China's perspective on democracy is more nuanced than this simplistic view suggests, and there are many positive aspects to their approach that could benefit other developing countries.

China has a long history of being subjected to external interference, ranging from the opium wars in the middle of the 19th century to the Japanese invasion in the first half of the 20th century. The country has developed a strong belief in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. For China, democracy is seen as a political system that should be chosen by each country based on its own unique cultural, social and historical circumstances. It emphasizes the importance of respecting sovereignty and independence of each country, allowing them to develop their own political systems and institutions at their own pace.

China's approach to democracy and non-interference has been especially appealing to many other developing countries that have also experienced colonialism and external interference. For these countries, the principle of non-interference is seen as an important safeguard against external attempts to impose political and economic systems on them. By promoting respect for sovereignty and independence, China is able to build strong partnerships with these countries based on mutual respect and trust.

A people-centered model 

"Whole-process people's democracy is the defining feature of socialist democracy—it is democracy in its broadest, most genuine and most effective form," Chinese President Xi Jinping has said.

China's socialist democracy has been developed based on its national context after numerous trials, just like the country's political system. President Xi told the West and particularly Western leaders on numerous occasions that China respects their version of democracy and that in return they should also learn to respect socialist democracy.

The people's participation in politics is regarded as the "essence" of China's socialist democracy. According to the country's Constitution, "All power in the People's Republic of China belongs to the people." This aspect constitutes the core value of China's political system and is well embodied in the people's congress system, as well as in the system of Communist Party of China (CPC)-led multiparty cooperation and political consultation.

The system of people's congresses is a political system fundamental to guaranteeing the people's status as masters of the country.

Those who criticize China's socialist democratic system perhaps do not know or never tried to know that deputies to people's congresses come from all walks of life and from all 56 ethnic groups, with a diversity in age, educational background and religious belief. They are fully representative of the people and are able to participate in the discussion and decision-making process. They do so by exercising power granted by the Constitution to participate in legislation, supervision, appointment and removal of officials, and making decisions on major issues. By virtue of this, the people-centered political system gives full play to the wisdom and strength of the entire society, so as to ensure every policy can be rational and reach the broadest possible consensus.

It is highly imperative to understand that China adopts a system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC. The system stresses the CPC leadership while allowing broad participation of non-CPC parties and prominent figures without party affiliation in the deliberation of state affairs and exercise of supervision.

It is also important to notice that unlike the two-party or multiparty systems boasted by Western countries, China's political system avoids the common scenario where parties prioritize their own interests rather than the people's and put emphasis on winning against oppositions rather than working jointly for the wellbeing of people. Nonetheless, the CPC has been integrating the principle of serving the people wholeheartedly into the country's governance. It is in this way that the interests of the people can be fundamentally guaranteed and that China's socialist democracy, with the Party's leadership, ensures the consistency of policymaking as well as the sustainability of development goals. 

Western critics very conveniently ignore that the CPC is not the only player in China's political system. Based on the system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation, the eight non-CPC parties and prominent figures without party affiliation also have a voice in state affairs. Chinese people's political consultative conference committees, as advisory bodies, serve as platforms for multiparty cooperation and political consultation and ensure good governance for the sake of the Chinese nation rather than being arenas for parties to gain interest for their own sake.

In his report to the 20th CPC National Congress in 2022, Xi stated that China's socialist democracy is the broadest, most genuine and most effective democracy to safeguard the fundamental interests of the people. "The very purpose of developing socialist democracy is to give full expression to the wills of the people, protect their rights and interests, spark their creativity, and provide systemic and institutional guarantees to ensure the people run the country," he said.

Mutual learning needed 

In light of the development of China's socialist democratic system and against the backdrop of the discussion that took place in the aforementioned international seminar on democracy, one can easily conclude that, primarily, the Western critics need to objectively understand the system of a socialist democracy. They also need to understand all the systems of China, and they need to learn a lot from the Chinese people-centered concept of democracy and incorporate it into their own versions of democracy.

Other developing countries also have a lot to learn from China's democratic norms and its governance system. More importantly, they must listen to President Xi's golden words that "we should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries."

The author is an editor of China affairs at The Daily Mail, Pakistan 

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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