If it were up to China, the definition of democracy would be rewritten

If it were up to China, the definition of democracy would be rewritten

US President Joe Biden opened the two-day Virtual Democracy Summit from the White House.Photo by Susan Walsh/AFP

“Some in the West are arguing that there is no democracy in China and that the Chinese Communist Party is authoritarian,” Vice Foreign Minister Li Yucheng said Saturday at a Dialogue for Democracy, a hastily organized Chinese alternative to the USA summit. democratic countries. This indicates their hostile intentions: they use democracy as a tool against everyone who disagrees with them.

Li Yucheng’s speech was one of many expressions of the Chinese government’s dissatisfaction with the democracy summit organized by Joe Biden, which began Thursday. Beijing was not invited to that online summit, as the rise of authoritarianism in China was one of the items on the agenda. As if that wasn’t enough to anger Beijing, there has been a dispute that Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, has actually moved in.

China is not alone in criticizing the Summit on Democracy, which shows a great deal of realpolitik on the list of invitees to a meeting on values. Of the 111 countries invited, 29 are “partly free” and three are “not free,” according to US think tank Freedom House. In addition, American democracy itself has weakened significantly since the presidency of Donald Trump. Some wonder what a country that does not have a home of its own can teach the rest of the world.

people’s needs

These are criticisms that the Chinese Communist Party gratefully uses to promote its own model, under the guise of academic debate. In several speeches, reports and open letters this week, Chinese leaders have indicated that the United States does not have a monopoly on defining democracy. Beijing also immediately proposed a new criterion for recognizing democracy: are the needs of the population being met?

Not surprisingly, according to the logic of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese model is true democracy. Although China does not hold free elections, the government knows what the people want through a “unique system of consultation”. “What China has is a comprehensive socialist democracy,” said Qin Gang, China’s ambassador to Washington, in an opinion piece. “It reflects the will of the people, fits the reality of the country, and has strong popular support.”

The fact that Chinese leaders call themselves democrats is not new: it means “democracy” in the Marxist-Leninist sense, with the Chinese Communist Party being the unique representation of the people. What is new is that these kinds of alternative tariffs are being introduced more and more frequently under President Xi Jinping. Beijing is also trying to redefine terms such as “rule of law” and “human rights” and introduce those new rhetoric to the United Nations, in order to undermine existing rights.

As China imposes its will

What is also new is that Xi is increasingly promoting “Chinese-style democracy” as the basis for a new world order. “American hegemony” contrasts with “democracy in international relations”, with win-win cooperation, harmonious coexistence and true pluralism. It sounds good, were it not for the fact that China is as good as the US at imposing its will on other countries, not with weapons but with consumer boycotts, trade sanctions and cyberattacks.

Academics also point out that “democracy” in all its current definitions has a clear bottom line: there must be free elections and there must be a media landscape in which different viewpoints are allowed. The Chinese Communist Party says it consults residents through local elections, online platforms and conferences, but forgets to mention that Xi’s word is the only truth in all of those consultations.

It’s an academic critique that Chinese leaders don’t care much about. They were able to make their point about the pinnacle of democracy: For anyone who feels most comfortable with the alternative meaning of “democracy,” China is the new powerhouse.

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