LABELLING China and Russia as “autocracies” and the United States and some allies as “democracies” has been a feature in Western media’s coverage of the Group of Seven summit, amplified by a self-claim of “free open societies and democracies” in the G7 Leaders’ communique.
Such polarized categorisation, instead of recognising China as the world’s largest and most substantial democracy, disregards history, denies facts and denotes hegemonic motives.
Ironically, during the post-World War II era, Western powers shied away from real democracy. The proposal of Soviet-led nations to replace “democratic societies” with “democratic states” in a 1948 United Nations draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was rejected by Western countries.
As overseas Chinese scholar Wen Yang noted, the United States and the United Kingdom were only categorized as “democratic societies”, while socialist countries were deemed “democratic states”.
Part of the reason is that socialist countries adopted public ownership, and the US-lauded universal suffrage progressed slowly.
Universal suffrage was not implemented in the last of the UK’s territories until 1968. The US did not achieve complete universal suffrage until 1965.
In addition, throughout US and UK history, winners of presidential or parliamentary elections generally rounded support by an absolute minority of eligible voters.
In the November election last year, Joe Biden collected 306 electoral college votes to claim the US presidency after winning 81.28 million votes. Yet that number was 51.3 per cent of the ballots, or roughly one-third of the around 239.2 million eligible US voters in 2020.
In comparison, in Russia’s direct presidential election in 2018, Vladimir Putin won 76.69 per cent of all votes, with a turnout rate of 67 per cent.
In China, Xi Jinping was overwhelmingly elected president of the country at the first plenary session of the 12th National People’s Congress in 2013, similar to his election as top leader of the Communist Party of China half a year earlier.
The CPC went through a long process of democratic consultations that saw 59 inspection groups working from July 2011 to June 2012 across the country in finalizing 727 candidates for members and alternate members of the CPC Central Committee from thousands of nominees, according to People’s Daily.
Altogether 376 members and alternate members of the committee were elected at the 18th CPC National Congress, which voted Xi as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee in November 2012.
Unlike G7 leaders who constantly struggle for approval ratings, the Chinese leadership with Xi at its core has enjoyed very high popularity, as several surveys by US-based agencies themselves have shown.
Literally, democracy is rule by the people, as Sterling Professor Emeritus Robert A. Dahl of Yale University has declared in the online Britannica. Dahl raises seven fundamental questions related to the principles, including the appropriate unit or association, what constitutes a majority, how citizens govern and whose views prevail when citizens are divided.
In China, the “units” include the people’s congress at national, provincial, city and county levels, whose deputies are elected by voters directly at the basic level by universal suffrage and indirectly at upper levels, supplemented by people’s political consultative conferences which exercise consultative democracy on decision-making and supervision. Through these units and mechanisms, China is run by the people and the government centres its work on serving the people.
In practice, the vast majority of farmers, workers, soldiers, academics, business people and students interact freely with their representatives, as well as political advisers and officials from different parties and groups, ensuring effective participation throughout the processes related to public affairs. When citizens are divided, consultation and centralistic decision making are enabled to build consensus.
China is often accused of a “one-party” rule. However, that party, the CPC, is unlike any Western parties which indeed represent small “parts” of the society. With over 90 million members, the CPC not only is dedicated to serving all the people, but has won the lasting consent of most people since it took power in 1949, and always observed democratic governance in alliance with about 10 smaller parties.
Chinese democracy has combined Western election merits with special characteristics of extensive consultation and democratic centralism, which makes it distinctively effective in governance.
Judging from Britannica’s criteria for democracy, the US system performs unsatisfactorily in regard to governance by citizens and a proper majority at least, while the Chinese whole-process democracy is doing well on the parameters, crediting China as the world’s largest democracy.
Moreover, the approval of the Chinese authorities by an absolute majority of the Chinese people also fits Abraham Lincoln’s gold standard of “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, which makes China one of the world’s most substantial and effectual democracies.
Critics in the West may argue that the Chinese supreme power does not engage in “freely contested” elections as in the US. Yet no election in the US can be free from the influence of money, especially since the US Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that corporations, unions and other organizations have the right to spend as much money as they want to influence federal elections.
Worse, many of the voters in today’s so-called “democracies” often find no satisfactory candidates available and must choose between the bad and the worse.
Free contest has never been the only criterion for true democracy since Aristotle’s era. When English philosopher John Locke stressed in the late 17th century that the only legitimate form of government is that based on “the consent of the governed”, he provided little guidance to the form of majority representation.
In reality, just as countries find varied solutions to the problem, democracy itself assumes diversified forms. China has been pursuing democracy and improving its own democratic system since the CPC’s birth in 1921, and saw the borrowing of US democratic formulas fail tragically before shaping its own.
If democracy within a nation is to respect one’s choice of a national leader or representatives, democracy among nations should prioritize mutual respect for each country’s own development path as chosen by its people.
Thus, the intentional polarization of countries into so-called “democracies” and “autocracies” is more than anti-democratic. Today its promotion can serve nothing but an invidious excuse to create enemies in order for the US to maintain its military and economic dominance over others.
Indeed, labelling China as an “autocracy” or “authoritarian regime” suits warmongers who are eager to defame China and check its rise. Such acts endanger common wishes for peace and prosperity and harm human unity.
G7 leaders said in their latest communique that they wish “to secure a cleaner, greener, freer, fairer and safer future for our people and planet”.
One small step toward that goal will be for G7 and Western media to stop polarizing nations, acknowledge China as the largest democracy, and treat China and Russia as equal democratic countries within the UN framework.
Wen Zongduo, China Daily