EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Democracy not a puppet show

Writer: Wu Guangqiang  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2021-11-01

President Xi Jinping, while addressing a central conference on work related to people's congresses, held from Oct. 13 to Oct. 14 in Beijing, expounded on some widely interesting issues concerning democracy.

Xi said that democracy, a shared value of humanity, is a key tenet unswervingly upheld by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese people. "Whether people are masters of their country is true yardstick for democracy," he stressed.

The term of democracy, literally meaning rule by the people, is derived from the Greek dēmokratia, coined from dēmos ("people") and kratos ("rule") in the middle of the 5th century B.C. to refer to the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states.

The Chinese term for democracy is minzhu, also meaning the people being masters. While the definitions are similar in both Chinese and Western languages, the interpretations vary widely.

The Chinese see democracy as a set of values which should serve the end goal, rather than just be a fixed format or procedure to which assumptions and practices can be applied.

Of course, proper form and procedure matter, but they should serve the purpose. Through decades of theory exploration and practice research, China has developed a unique democratic system, known as a whole-process people's democracy that enables the Chinese people to be broadly involved in national governance. The system operates effectively through such institutional arrangements as people's congresses, multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC, and law-based governance.

China's epic economic and social achievements in the past 72 years are the most powerful evidence of the success of Chinese democracy. China's extraordinary performance in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic has further consolidated its role of a genuine democracy that safeguards the life and health of the people as its top national interest.

However, over the past decades, democracy has been monopolized by the West in terms of definition and criteria, whose essence is simplified as multi-party-based free elections. Anything inconsistent with this yardstick is considered undemocratic, or even authoritarian by Western politicians and academia. In the light of this narrative, democracy has been vulgarized as a "votes only" system.

The U.S.-led West has been trying to depict itself as the authentic democracy creator and defender, stubbornly denying the existence of other forms of democracy. By claiming that only "free elections" can confer legitimacy to a party or government, they virtually argue that monkeys dressed in human clothes they designed are humans while humans not dressed that way are not.

But truth and history have reached a different verdict. Western democracy is no one-size-fits-all universal model, and indiscriminately enforcing it on others is doing the world more harm than good.

Western democracy has flourished in Western soil, but there have been scarce instances of success in non-Western countries. By contrast, too many failure examples suffice to declare a need for an end of efforts to promote Western democracy around the world.

The U.S. spent 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars attempting to transplant democracy in Afghanistan, only to expose to the world a corrupt and incompetent puppet regime, which collapsed within a few days.

Haiti, a Caribbean island nation, is known as a copy of U.S. democracy, but it is one of the most failed countries in the world, with corruption, poverty, and crime permanently raging. In Asia, the Philippines is one of the earliest "democratic" countries modeled on the U.S. system, but corruption and poverty has never diminished there.

Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and many other nations are all victims of the U.S.' "global democratic missions." Uncle Sam instigated hatred between different political factions, which led to civil wars, devastating all these countries, before running away.

The list goes on and on. Even the U.S. itself, the world's "democratic leader," is faced with an increasingly deteriorating democracy crisis. The worsening partisan struggles with consequent political and economic dysfunction, social ideological division, ethnic inequality, and rich-poor gap, are undermining the foundation of U.S. democracy.

Western democracy used to appeal to many Chinese, but with China's outstanding achievements and the West's disappointing performance, it is losing favor rapidly.

It has dawned on a growing population in China and abroad that Western democracy is getting increasingly hypocritical and ornamental. The U.S. has long lost its qualifications to claim itself a democracy lecturer.

(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)