Wednesday 24th of April 2024

in china, democracy works......

In 2023, US President Biden convened the second so-called “Summit for Democracy” with selected countries. Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz took part via video link. He addressed the US President directly: “Thank you very much! Joe, a very special thank you for this important and encouraging initiative. Democracy delivers what it promises to the people and therefore the future belongs to democracy.” At the first summit in 2022, Taiwan had also been present. The Chinese government had reacted sharply. It said that organising the summit was a dangerous attempt to revive the Cold War mentality.

 

How China understands democracyWhite Paper of the Chinese State Council

 

   by Dr rer. publ. Werner Wüthrich

 

Who decides what democracy is? China, too, claims to be a democracy. In 2021, the Chinese State Council published a white paper, “China: Democracy That Works”, with the key message: the Communist Party CCP does have a monopoly on power, with the main task of holding the giant country with its 1.4 billion inhabitants together (Xinhuanet 4 December 2021). At the lower political levels, however, every single citizen has many opportunities to get involved and have a say. The Chinese type of democracy has united the country and led to impressive economic development in recent decades. The approval ratings in the current surveys are high.
  Key points from this white paper will be contrasted with Western media reports, which often all too quickly and flippantly differentiate between “good” democracies and “bad” autocracies and issue corresponding reproof or even “recommendations”.

The title of the 50-page brochure published by the Chinese State Council translates as: “China – a democracy that works”. It found no favour with Kathrin Büchenbacher, for example, the China correspondent for the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” newspaper: “Of course this is nonsense,” she writes, “China is a socialist one-party dictatorship” (“Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 27 December 2021). Such accusations prompt us to take a closer look at the brochure:
  China, with its 1.4 billion inhabitants, sees democracy as a “living overall process”, in which the role of the Communist Party cannot be considered in isolation. As regards its politics, China is divided into five political levels. (In Switzerland there are three political levels: the municipalities, the cantons and the federal government). In China, there are 23 provinces, 333 districts, 2860 counties and 41,040 municipalities with one million villages. They all have parliaments – in China these are people’s congresses the representatives of which are elected.
  There are 56 ethnically autonomous areas in multi-ethnic China. This means, for example, that all governors, prefectural commissioners and heads of the individual counties belong to the ethnic group living there.

 

Political structures

The National People’s Congress is the highest organ of state power. It enacts laws and regulations and appoints or dismisses senior officials. It makes important decisions and supervises political events. The members of parliament elected in the provinces (currently around 2,600) meet for three weeks every year. It goes without saying that they cannot deal with the business at hand thoroughly in this short time. They therefore elect a standing committee of 200 deputies who work throughout the year and prepare the business to be discussed, amended and adopted or rejected by the full congress.
  In the individual provinces, districts and counties, there are also elected people’s congresses at the lower political levels. All administrative, supervisory and judicial bodies are created by the people’s congresses. At the end of 2020, around 2.6 million deputies served in the numerous people’s congresses – around 95 per cent in the congresses of the counties and municipalities. They directly put forward proposals coming from the people.
  Democracy is most vibrant at the level of the 41,000 municipalities, which include around one million villages. Here we find direct democratic decisions as well as elections. Village heads and the heads of the municipal residents’ committees are elected directly. Decisions on issues are put to the vote – for example, whether a particular school building or bypass should be built.

 

Employee congresses in large companies and public institutions

According to the White Paper, 150 million companies determine their business policy largely independently. 95 per cent of these are private companies. They employ over 700 million people. Around 3 million larger companies and public organisations have set up employee congresses.

 

What role do the political parties play?

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is by far the largest party with over 90 million members. There are eight other parties, but they all have fewer than one million members. The Communist Party is not a monolithic bloc. There are different voices, currents and interests within its ranks. The CCP is the ruling party, and the other eight parties accept its leadership. By means of multi-party co-operation and political consultations, the interests of the largest possible number of people are embraced.
  The CCP organises a large number of internal elections and makes decisions based on votes on political matters. It constantly improves and refines these democratic procedures in order to find outstanding personalities for the tasks at hand. Its members elect the approximately 2,300 delegates to the Party Congress. These elect the 350 members of the Central Committee, which in turn elects the 25 members of the Politburo. This body elects the General Secretary – today Xi Jinping. This process of electoral democracy is intended to crystallise out the most capable people from the 90 million members, who will then will hold the country together in the interests of the common good and lead it outwards.
  It is no easy task to keep an eye on the needs and concerns of China’s 1.4 billion inhabitants from numerous ethnic groups. It requires a robust and centralised leadership – according to the White Paper – that sets the direction and coordinates the political forces. What used to be the task of the emperor and his civil servants is now performed by Xi Jinping in a very similar way with today’s administration. It is absolutely inconceivable that only a small circle or even a single person can successfully fulfil the many different tasks. If the government really wants to be successful, it must involve the population in the overall process as much as possible. This requires a special institution:

 

Political Consultative Conference of the Chinese People (CPPCC)

Doctors, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, teachers, professors, NGOs … All those as well as artists and athletes are elected to the Political Consultative Conferences. In 2019, 2,100 delegates attended the first meeting of the 13th Committee of the CPPCC, 60 per cent of whom were not members of the Chinese Communist Party.
  When a legislative act is up for debate, the people at the Consultative Conference take action. They call in experts, organise hearings, hold seminars, conduct opinion polls via the internet, inform the population, and much more. For example, when it came to the current five-year plan, the Political Consultative Conference organised a symposium in the Yangtze region – in the presence of General Secretary Xi Jinping – with entrepreneurs, scientists, economic experts and specialists in education and health.
  Consultation is institutionalised and developed in the Political Consultative Conferences. With their work, the conferences at all political levels form a pool of expertise and build a bridge from the population to the administration and government.
  The consultative conferences are permanent bodies that actively collect the interests and concerns of the population and introduce them into politics. And as already mentioned, the Communist Party does not have a majority in these bodies. The Political Consultative Conferences already existed before the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In her book “The Morning Deluge: Mao Tse-Tung and the Chinese Revolution”, Han Suyin reports on the “Political Consultative Conference”, which was made up of several parties and groups, as early as 1928. When the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, there was still no constitution. On 9 September, the existing Political Consultative Conference met in Beijing. It consisted of twenty-three different organisations, groups and parties, and it was given the task of drafting the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (which came into force in 1954).

 

Emergence of agricultural co-operatives

Interesting is the “Report from a Chinese Village” by the Swede Jan Myrdal. After the founding of the state, Mao had advised the peasants to organise their lives freely in cooperatives. At that time, Myrdal visited the village of Liu Ling in the Chinese province of Shensi for a few weeks. The inhabitants were still building their houses in caves. They recounted their experiences and fates during the revolutionary period and talked about their experiences in the early years of the People’s Republic.
  The farmers founded numerous smaller and larger agricultural co-operatives, which resulted in a large number of elections and referendums. The large people’s communes were only established later and were dissolved again after Mao’s death during the Deng Xiaoping era. Surely this co-operative training in democracy was helpful for the turbulent events in later decades. It would be interesting to visit Liu Ling today.
  According to the White Paper, China’s path to democracy was rocky and tortuous. It went through several stages of experimentation and selection. It was not easy to find a path that suited such a huge country with a population of 1.4 billion. The White Paper cites the turbulent and conflict-ridden years of the Cultural Revolution as an example. This was a catastrophe for the Chinese people – but it was not the end. China continued to develop its society and democracy, experimenting and choosing the best solution – in the spirit of Confucius, for whom learning was the highest priority. China gradually transformed its centralised planned economy into a vital, Chinese-style socialist market economy. The country also opened up to foreign countries, which led to an economic miracle of historic proportions. – Today, surveys show that the level of the people’s satisfaction with the Chinese government has been above 90 per cent for many years.

 

Overall assessment of the Chinese State Council

In the West, political life is often focussed solely on elections. Different parties vie for power, and this often escalates to the point where respect for political opponents is lost and the country splits into hostile camps (which is very much the case in the USA today). Or it can happen that the dominant parties try to eliminate the votes of entire groups of citizens, as can be seen in Germany in respect of the AfD, for example. Such tendencies are rather on the rise. In China, power is predetermined, which means that politics and democratic procedures are more focussed on cooperation (and less on the struggle for power). This may well prove to be an advantage in international competition.
  According to the authors of the White Paper, the Chinese people are showing an increasing interest in democratic participation. This is constantly increasing in scope and depth. In this way, the people are participating in the administration of state affairs, in social, economic and cultural matters. They develop proposals for local issues or even for national development plans at the highest level. This democratic practice began quite simply. – As in the early days of the republic, the vast majority of farmers were illiterate, elections were held according to the “bean principle”: All a voter had to do was put a bean in the bowl of the candidate they favoured.

 

Impressive social and economic development

One fifth of the world’s population lives in China. But its resource consumption per capita is low. Today’s success would not have been possible without a “wise” political leadership that has received a “mandate from heaven”, to use an image from Confucius. In just a few decades, China has undergone an industrial development that has taken Western industrialised countries several centuries. Despite dramatic social change, it has largely succeeded in maintaining a stable society and avoiding major social unrest.
  In China, personal freedom has developed to a degree never before seen in several thousand years of history. Today, Chinese people travel freely around the country, 16,000 new companies are founded every year, a billion people surf the internet and communicate with each other. 

 

Against hegemonic thinking

There is no single path to democracy and no single model. The problem arises, so write the authors of the White Paper, when Western governments believe that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. The difficulty lies not in the differences between the various models of democracy, but in the prejudice and hostility towards other countries’ attempts to find their own democratic way. Western governments interfere in the internal affairs of a country on the pretext of bringing “democracy” and thus violate its sovereignty – in order to ultimately assert their own hegemonic interests.
  China has not followed the established path of Western countries in its modernisation efforts. It has not copied their models, but has created something of its own. All countries must find their own way in order to advance human progress. 

 

Open to co-operation 

According to the authors of the White Paper, the Chinese people are willing to co-operate with all the other peoples of the world to cultivate and promote the common values of humanity such as peace, development, respect, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom. In a spirit of mutual respect, they say, they will add new elements to the world and progress towards a global community.

 

Embedded in a  millennia-old culture 

China draws its wisdom and strength from its 5000-year-old culture and traditions. The world of today is experiencing changes such as none have been seen for centuries. All paths to democracy chosen by a people itself deserve – according to the State Council’s final recommendation – due respect!  •

https://www.zeit-fragen.ch/en/archives/2024/nr-3-6-februar-2024/wie-china-demokratie-versteht

 

 

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