Xi Jinping says China’s “democratic” political system is a “great creation” that holds key to international success
- Chinese President tells party meeting that systems can be judged on whether they allow an orderly transfer of power and let people express their interests
- Speech is seen as latest attempt to defend the Communist Party’s system amid growing pressure from the US over rights and values
President Xi Jinping has hailed China’s political system as a “great creation” and the key to its global success on Thursday amid intensifying ideological confrontation with Washington.
He told a party meeting in Beijing that the competition between political systems was a “key aspect” in the competition between nations, and could be a “key advantage for the country in gaining the strategic initiative”, according to state media reports.
“History and reality have shown that a country is stable if its system is stable, and a country is strong if its [political] system is robust,” he said.
Xi made the remarks on Thursday at a party meeting to discuss China’s constitutional system, where he hailed the Chinese system as a “whole-process democracy”, adding: “[It] is a great creation in the political history of the human race by our party, and a significant brand new system in the history of the political development of our country and even that of the world.”
Xi also argued that real democracy was not about rhetoric and pledges made on the election trail, saying: “Democracy is not ornament or just for decoration. Democracy is for solving the people’s real problems.”
The meeting comes as Beijing is stepping up its efforts to defend its system in the face of mounting pressure from the West, which has slapped multiple sanctions on China amid growing concerns over human rights and the suppression of dissent.
Xi’s speech was an apparent response to the pressure by Washington on human rights and values, said Qin Qianhong, a law professor with Wuhan University.
“[US President Joe] Biden has used different ways to pressure China compared with [Donald] Trump, and has played with issues like human rights and democratic values,” he said.
Biden is expected to host the first of two Summits for Democracy in December, and Beijing will be watching closely to see if delegates from Taiwan, which it considered a breakaway province, will be invited.
“I personally think that this is a response after Chinese leaders have been under great pressure … including the democracy summit [proposed by Biden] and the sanctions,” Qin said.
To Beijing’s discomfort, the White House has also used phrases such as “shared democratic values” in the framework for new multinational trade and security agreements, such as the US-EU Trade and Technology Council and Aukus, the security partnership between Australia, Britain and the US.
In his Thursday speech, Xi apparently sought to discredit any criticism of China’s political system, without naming specific countries.
“Whether a country is democratic or not should only be judged by the people of that country, and there is no place for a small number of outsiders to point fingers at this or that,” he said.
Xi added that it is “undemocratic” to judge all political systems by one single standard.
His remarks echo previous attempts by Chinese diplomats, including Qin Gang the ambassador to the US, to challenge the emerging narrative that defines US-China ties as “democracy versus authoritarianism”.
In one recent speech to the Carter Centre and the George HW Bush Foundation for US-China Relations, Qin argued that China is a “whole-process democracy” in which “all power belongs to the people” whose interests are represented at all levels of the system. Xi previously used the phrase “whole-process democracy” in his July 1 speech to mark the Communist Party’s centenary.
The ambassador also quoted Abraham Lincoln’s concept of government “of the people, by the people, for the people” and Plato’s belief in the importance of a state educating its citizens to prove that China is a genuine democracy.
But Xi went further on Thursday, saying: “If there are only high-flying promises before elections and no say for the people after them, then such a democracy is not a real democracy.”
He continued: “In judging whether the political system of a country is democratic or effective, [we should] examine if there is an orderly and legal succession of its leadership, if its people can manage state affairs, social, economic and cultural matters in accordance with the law, and if its people can effectively express their interests and demands.
“[It depends on] whether different sectors of the society can effectively participate in the political life in the country … and whether there are effective checks and balances on power,” he added.
Qin, the law professor, said Xi was also trying to contrast China’s orderly preparations for the 20th Communist Party Congress next year with the chaos following last year’s US presidential election, including the attack on Capitol Hill.
Xi is expected to be appointed for a third term as party chief at next autumn’s party congress, the first Chinese leader to do so in decades.
Author: Jun Mai, SCMP