As U.S. promotes democracy, China touts its own version
By Yew Lun Tian
BEIJING (Reuters) – As U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to host more than 100 participants in the initial “Summit for Democracy”, China – which was not invited – has increasingly talked up the advantages of its own “whole-process democracy”.
Chinese state media and diplomats in recent weeks have ramped up criticism of democracy in the United States, touting what they describe as preferable outcomes in its system of “socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics” on measures ranging from COVID-19 management to social mobility.
Communist Party-ruled China, widely considered to have become increasingly authoritarian under President Xi Jinping, first used the phrase “whole-process democracy” in 2019, and the concept was enshrined in law this past March.
China was not asked to take part in the Dec. 9-10 event hosted by Biden, but Beijing-claimed Taiwan was.
Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng described the Washington event as the “very opposite of democracy” because, he said, it is divisive and “points fingers” at other countries.
“China’s whole-process people’s democracy is not the kind that wakes up at the time of voting and goes back to dormant afterwards,” Le told foreign media at an event in Beijing on Thursday.
China, which will release a white paper on democracy on Saturday, defines its version as consultative, with voting permitted at the very local level and public feedback collected before any law is implemented.
The definition does not include an independent judiciary, free media, or universal suffrage for national office.
Zhang Weiwei, director of the China Institute at Fudan University, said at the same event that it is “too naive” to equate democracy with elections, which can be manipulated by interest groups, money, or disinformation on social media.
China’s boosterism for its own political model is intended to strengthen political legitimacy domestically while expanding its appeal to developing countries, several foreign analysts said, just as it prepares to stage the Winter Olympics in February amid Western criticism over its human rights record.
“Xi has long used the claim that party’s governance is superior to that of the West in order to legitimise the party’s monopoly of power,” Charles Parton, a former British diplomat and a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told Reuters.
Asked at Thursday’s event why Beijing seems obsessed with comparing itself to Washington, Eric Li, a Chinese venture capitalist who founded a current affairs website known for its nationalistic stance, joked: “We are just unhappy we didn’t get invited to the party next week.”
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe and Mark Heinrich)