It would be a stretch to say that Western-style democracy is on the verge of collapse, but there is a real breakdown unfolding on the world stage. In Brexit Britain, people do not know where the country is heading. In the deeply-divided United States, the Democratic and Republican political parties cannot agree on much of anything, trapping the country in endless political fights. Look around the Western world, and the symptoms of the failure of their political systems are obvious.
Tourists at Tiananmen Square on National Day, October 1, 2018. (File Photo: en.people.cn)
On the other hand, China, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, is producing some amazing results and the people of China have strong confidence in their future. It is not hard to see why. According to data from the World Bank, China’s GDP in current US dollars was just roughly $60 billion in 1960. It more than doubled to about $150 billion around the start of reform and opening-up and then quickly shot up to over $12 trillion by 2017. Despite what criticism China receives, the Communist Party of China has created a much better future for over 1.3 billion Chinese people, as well as for many others around the world.
One of China’s greatest achievements to date is its poverty reduction achievements. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all UN member states in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. The primary goal, which is to put an end to poverty once and for all, is something that China, the world’s largest developing country, has always attached great importance to, lifting more people out of poverty than any other country in the world.
Behind these results are the ruling party’s organs at various level, which have been the fighting force in the country’s battles against poverty.
One practice in China’s poverty alleviation campaign is that the selection and assignment of capable persons to serve as the first secretary in impoverished villages to lead people in carrying out targeted and precise poverty relief measures. These leaders are carefully selected by the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, the nation’s “HR department,” which oversees some 90 million members. This unique practice has proven very successful and demonstrates the advantage that the Chinese political system has in mobilizing resources to achieve a certain goal.
All in all, the Chinese model has been very successful. This is backed up by major polls, such as those by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gallup, which show that not only are most Chinese people positive about the future of their country, but the Chinese model is gaining global admirers. For example, in 2018, Ipsos carried out a survey funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and found that 94% of Chinese youth (age 12-15) were optimistic about the future of their own country. The survey also found that 88% of Chinese adults were positive about the future of China. And just last month, Gallup found that a positive international perception of Chinese leadership continues to strengthen, with China’s approval rating rising to its highest in almost a decade.
But China would not be in the strong position it is in today if it had adopted the Western system that is premised on nasty confrontation. What keeps the nation together and moving forward is a powerful political force that acts as a bonding agent in a country with a long, complex history.
Chinese experts, such as Fudan University’s Zhang Weiwei, have pointed out that, as a super-large modern state with a long history, China has developed a tradition of governance by a unified ruling group, and the Communist Party of China maintains this tradition. During most of the country’s history of unified governance, China was arguably better governed and more prosperous than the West. The country only began to lag when it closed its door to the outside world and missed the Industrial Revolution, but China is now on the right path and is catching up fast to the West.
The Chinese people are fortunate to have a political force that represents their overall interests. Moreover, unlike the West, the process of selecting officials is a careful and rational process and leaders in China are selected based on both integrity and ability. In the Western system, rookie politicians can win over voters by cheap talk and big money is used to influence outcomes. The end result of such a system is often constant bickering and fighting and a lot of governmental dysfunction.
The China model is very different. As Zhang describes it, China practices a system of “selection and election’’ – where competent leaders are selected based on performance and broad support after various types of evaluations and elections. Both models have elections baked into them, but the Western model lacks the rigorous testing process of the Chinese model, and instead depends on the “rationality” of everyday people to make the best decision, which in some cases, like the UK’s Brexit referendum, the outcome can be irrational and, quite frankly, dangerous.
This is what makes the Chinese political process unique. The Communist Party of China, the world’s largest ruling party, unites all political parties and people toward a common goal, overcoming the trap of nasty confrontation among multiple political parties. In the United States, partisan conflict is ripping apart the nation and undermining development efforts; in the United Kingdom, nasty confrontation is undermining political stability. Both countries lack an overarching political force to make political parties and people work together for the common goal of building a stronger country.
Western parties are avowedly parties with partial interests, while the Communist Party of China is a party with integrated interests, which represents the long-term interests of the general public, according to Chinese scholars like Zhang. “Countries with political systems representing the long-term interests of the general public will perform well in international competition in the 21st century,” he said, adding: “That’s why I am optimistic about China’s political model.”
As the drama on the world stage shows, faith in the Western model is fading. Western-style democracy is not a one-size-fits-all system nor the end of history.