Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, recently precautioned other Chinese leaders of “chaos unless correct path is taken.”
Wu’s key point is that China should not blindly follow others’ political systems for the sake of following. Rather, China should advance one suiting her own conditions.
He even pointedly said, “on the basis of China’s conditions, we’ve made a solemn declaration that we’ll not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation.”
This has ruffled some feathers in the West.
During the Cold War, the propaganda in the West is that anything communist (or not democracy) is “evil” and is to be toppled. That sentiment still lingers today. I will expand on this later.
Couple of years ago, Zhang Weiwei, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s interpreter, wrote an essay entitled, “Reflection on Western Democratization,” and in it he argued there is an order of development and achieving democracy necessitates some key pre-conditions. To some, Zhang may have appeared to be arguing democracy as an eventuality and taken wholesale, but his conclusion (quoted below) speaks otherwise:
As a follower, China should learn from the experience of both the developed countries and the countries of third world in the process of democracy development. We should get rid of the narrow and rigid view of democracy and put forth the reform of political system which is suitable for China and also to gradually deepen the reforms at the same time. We will try to catch up with the first runners and build a new civil democratic society of prosperity and harmony.
Note what I emphasized. Also, “democratic society” comes in varying colors and stripes, so he is not saying any particular form is better or worse. It is more accurate to say that he is arguing pragmatism and that if certain democratic ideas is suitable then apply when the condition warrants.
Some may further recall Wen Jiabao’s interview by Fareed Zakaria on CNN few years ago paying homage to democracy too. Wen said:
I believe I and all the Chinese people have such a conviction that China will make continuous progress, and the people’s wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible. I hope that you will be able to gradually see the continuous progress of China.
While Wen didn’t clarify what that democracy is, some in the West have quickly jumped unto this idea of a conflict between Wen and Wu. U.K. based BBC reports, “Chinese leader rules out democracy:”
Wu Bangguo – officially number two in the leadership structure – warned that China could face civil disorder if it abandoned its current system.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao suggested last year that China could introduce democratic reforms.
These comments from Mr Wu explicitly say otherwise.
Is the narrative of “reform vs. no reform” correct? Are Wen and Wu fighting and their differences airing in the public?
Recall that China is busy working towards government accountability and transparency among other things. (See my previous article, “China’s determined and long march towards rule of law.”) Local level elections are all over China now.
What is not “democratic” about these reforms?
The “reform vs. no reform” is a false dichotomy. One cannot conclude Wen and Wu are butting heads.
The BBC report went on to say:
But regardless of what Mr Wen believes, China continues to be a state governed by one party, which tolerates very little dissent.
Organisations and individuals outside the Communist Party that call for political reforms are quickly silenced.
Wu Bangguo’s comments at the NPC make it clear that, under this current crop of leaders, there are no plans to change the country’s current political system.
This report wants to preserve this mindset in their readers that “democracy” equals “multi-party rule.” An old trick of the Cold War Western propaganda is to label non-democratic countries “evil.” In order to bank on this sentiment, the report says, “China continues to be a state governed by one party.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with one party. Multi-party ruled states are just as capable at being “evil.” In fact, count the number of invasions the U.S. has carried out vs. China.
Wen has never said “democracy equals multi-party rule.” China tolerates dissent, just that the BBC doesn’t care if certain “dissent” breaks Chinese law or not. Witness their narrative on the Liu Xiaobo Nobel Peace Prize (see “Liu Xiaobo Deserves an Ig Nobel Peace Prize – the latest reaction to buzz the West.”)
Did Wu Bangguo say “there are no plans to change the country’s current political system?” Absolutely not. Can what he said be interpreted as no plans to change? I think only with the mindset of this “democracy equals multi-party rule” can one possibly interpret what Wu said in such a way.
Below is the full-text of China Daily’s coverage of what Wu said:
BEIJING – The country’s top legislator on Thursday warned of a possible “abyss of internal disorder” if China strays from the “correct political orientation”.
China will never adopt a multiparty revolving-door system or other Western-style political models, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, said while delivering a work report.
The establishment of a socialist law system, with Chinese characteristics, institutionally and legally ensures the country stays on the right path, he told about 3,000 NPC deputies.
“On the basis of China’s conditions, we’ve made a solemn declaration that we’ll not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation,” he said.
He ruled out the possibility of separating executive, legislative and judicial powers, adopting a bicameral or federal system, and said privatization was not under consideration.
“Following our own path and building socialism with Chinese characteristics is … the only correct road to development and progress for our country,” Wu said.
“If we waver (from the correct political orientation and major issues of principle, such as the fundamental system of the State), the achievements gained thus far in development will be lost and it is possible the country could sink into the abyss of internal disorder,” he said.
So far, China has enacted 239 laws, over 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,600 local statutes, covering every area of economic, political, cultural, social and ecological development.
Wu said the formation of such a system has generally solved the problem of having laws for people to follow, and more efforts will be made to revise and improve existing laws, enact rules of implementation, and ensure better enforcement.
Wu also made it clear that while China wants to improve its legal system, it will “never blindly follow or imitate others”.
“Different countries have different systems of laws, and we do not copy the systems of laws of certain Western countries,” he said.
NPC deputies spoke highly of Wu’s remarks.
“China’s existing political system is based on our own conditions and can thus better ensure stability,” said Han Yuchen, a deputy from Handan in Hebei province.
“Such a system shows its merits particularly when the country faces emergencies and disasters, such as the 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan in 2008.”
Han said the Chinese people have greatly benefited from social and economic development over the past decades thanks to the stable political system.
“Although there’re some social problems existing, the leadership is making great efforts to address them. I don’t think the riots that recently occurred in some other countries will happen in China,” he said.
Wang Dongzhou, a deputy from Chengdu in Sichuan province, said the recent chaotic situation in Libya and Egypt once again demonstrates that internal disorder will ruin the fruits of years, or even decades, of social and economic development.
“The establishment of a socialist law system has laid the foundation for the rule of law in China and institutionally ensures the right direction for the country,” he said. “We must follow it to prevent any disorder.”
Note the highlighted numbers above. Chinese reforms are ongoing.
I think there is a fear in the West of a Chinese government that is successful. The Economist has been on a trend to “discredit” the government by dis-attributing success. Recently, it reported, “Bamboo capitalism, China’s success owes more to its entrepreneurs than its bureaucrats..”
Feel free to read the article. However, a much better read is comment by a reader, tp1024, who defends China’s central planning. In my view, The Economist might be better off hiring tp1024. Below is what the reader said:
It is strange. China is growing at a faster pace for a longer time than any country ever before. And yet, the Economist can’t help but give prescriptions of what to change in order to do it better. But how could you, given the miserable track record (in comparison) of any other country?
How about forgetting about the prescriptions and simply stick to description.
Many of the prescriptions come down to do whatever we did. Perfect assurance of property, perfect liberty of economic activity. Whatever good happened to China must have come from the market and nowhere else.
Well, hardly so. Central planning and market mechanisms are exactly that – mechanisms. They are part of the economic toolbox of governments – although the both Communists and Capitalists eschew the one or the other. What both fail to realize is that both, the brains behind communism and liberal capitalism didn’t belong to idiots. They expressed valid ideas for very good reasons and curiously enough, both consist to refined ideas expressed in Adam Smith’s “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”.
There is a place for markets, especially when it comes to consumer goods. No central planning authority can possibly judge how many eggs, potatoes etc.pp. people will consume next year. If it was just one product – maybe. But there are thousands. The Soviet Union was great wherever the government put its focus on – it was all the rest that was falling apart and eventually took the government with it. That was mostly because there was no market to do all the micromanagement that no human being can do anyway – the fad of cybernetics in the 40ies and 50ies nonwithstanding.
That is what China started experimenting with in the 1970ies and led to its current success. It started reforming central planning to hand the micromanagement over to markets and concentrate on the big picture.
There is a place for central planning and strong regulation. (There is even a place for governments taking away private property when it is not being used or abused to the point of being a harm for the population.)
For example, you need central planning for optimized railroads these days, because conditions have changed. It is no longer the only means of transport nor is there anywhere near the amount of open land as during the heyday of railroad tycoons. The closed thing to central planning in railroads in europe is France.
Take a train from Rome to Paris and will take almost 10 hours from Rome to Switzerland, having switched trains three times – the other half of the way is a 3-hour trip in the TGV. You think that’s just because Italy is a mess? Think again. Rome-Berlin takes almost 20 hours and you need to change trains 5-7 times – despite being almost the same distance and all the claims of German punctuality.
You also need some sort of central planning for energy, and especially renewables despite their supposedly decentralized nature. Germany’s famous windmills usually start spinning down as the wind is getting stronger. Why? Well, most of them are in the deindustrialized wreck of Eastern Germany, which can’t possibly use the peak amount of electricity generated under such conditions – but power line capacity towards the west has not been build, much less optimized for its distribution. (Similar things are true for the US.)
Central planning is needed for things a market can’t do – and quite contrary the western dogma, markets can’t do everything. The West should do what China did, but in reverse – keep the markets wherever they are doing well and start to do central planning again, where it is needed. There would be no highway system in the USA without central planning. And there will be no fair and efficient health care system without some sort of central planning.
In fact, the very heart of large companies like GM or GE *is* central planning – although it is completely irresponsible toward the public (it is towards their shareholders), it is outside the grasp of the democratic process and their irresponsibility is backed by the government under the guise of economic freedom. And this is certainly worse than central planning by a government that you can vote out of office, and possibly still worse than central planning by a government that rests the stability of society on a constantly improving economic conditions and hence the hope that the public won’t rise up and kick it out.
The Cold War has built up a psyche in the West this idea that “democracy” is good, and everything else is bad. China still represents an “anomaly.” I think it is the ongoing success of China that will help the West shed this mindset. Winning the Cold War apparently hasn’t done it. What an irony. When China is genuinely “democratic,” she still won’t be recognized.