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China excels in pragmatic democracy

By Ong Tee Keat | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-05 07:04


The annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee held in March every year remain a captivating event for China's friends and foes alike. They provide the international community with an insight into China's statecraft and hence its governance trajectory.

While the US-led West continues to make the Chinese polity a bone of contention through its own lens of "democracy", the self-proclaimed "free world" makes no bones about its interest in China's priorities as a rising global power, albeit not lack of ill-intentioned speculations rooted in ideological prejudices.

The "two sessions" — as the annual sessions of the NPC and the CPPCC National Committee are collectively called — remain the mainstay of Chinese democracy and are tasked to chart the way forward for the country with the people's aspirations and well-being taking the centre stage. This is in stark contrast to the normative template of the US, the self-proclaimed "beacon of democracy", where the enactment of extra-territorial legislation to target on adversaries by means of "long-arm jurisdiction" is allowed to dominate the legislative agenda even at the expense of coherent home governance.

Having vilified China's political system as "authoritarian" — an anathema to free trade and economic development — the state actors, alongside the military-industrial-media complex of the West, have indeed been baffled by the compatibility of the Chinese polity with that of the global free trade. The re-emergence of China as a global economic power has best disproved of such mutual-exclusivity.

Yet that does not deter them from incessantly repeating the doom saying of China's imminent economic collapse though China's real economic growth figures have time and again disproved it embarrassingly. Nobody has ever denied that the aspirations and priorities deliberated at the "two sessions" truly mirror the key concerns of China. Given the global relevance of contemporary China, it's no exaggeration that no other legislative body in the world has ever grabbed so much global limelight when it convenes.

Indeed, China's whole-process people's democracy and its people-centric development policies are best suited to fulfilling the aspirations of the Chinese people. The high approval rating — of more than 90 percent in favour of the Chinese leadership's governance — is enough to debunk any "authoritarian" portrayal of the Chinese polity. This is no in-house propaganda by China but a survey finding by Edward Cunningham of ASH Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School, in his opinion poll titled "Understanding CCP Resilience — Chinese Opinion Survey Through Time" (July 2020).

The Harvard survey, which began in 2003, is a barometric measurement of the level of people's satisfaction with the Chinese leadership's governance. The survey encompasses multiple facets of governance, ranging from the election and selection of officials to policy formulation and their implementation, each of which involves people's participation through consultation.

This contrasts with the limited role of the electorate after election in the Western countries where the legislative process is very much attuned to party lines. This explains why winning an election at all cost is of utmost importance in the practice of Western parliamentary democracy. This provides fertile ground for breeding populism, in most cases punctuated with mere rhetoric and hubris but devoid of the necessary knowledge and experience of public administration upon the onslaught of impromptu crisis.

The West has the liberty of choice to pursue such a mode of governance and development model, but it certainly has no right to shove it down the throat of other nations, which have their respective diverse cultures and trajectories of nation building that might appear alien to the West.

Similarly, the West has been taking pride of its inclusiveness and inherent checks-and-balances functionality in the practice of multi-party electoral democracy. Though, the norm of "majority rule" may ostensibly allow certain latitude for dissent, however the endgame of its decision-making is "winner takes all" regardless of the margin of majority.

In contrast, the element of consultation dedicated to accommodating minority views in the practice of Chinese consultative democracy is undoubtedly more inclusive in its outlook. However, this does not give China a carte blanche to impose its brand of democracy worldwide.

All in all, democracy, a sacrosanct common value cherished by humanity, has no single template to emulate. Over the decades after World War II, nowhere across the world have we ever witnessed the success of democracy transplant under coercion or brutal "regime change" through military intervention. But instead, such hegemonic endeavors cloaked in the outfit of promoting democracy have only added more failed states and humanitarian disasters to the list.

The author is president of Belt and Road Initiative Caucus for Asia Pacific based in Malaysia.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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