CHINA’S ROAD TO DEMOCRACY
I remember telling a friend enthusiastically that the debate would be about China and democracy, to which he replied, “You mean China and its lack of democracy.” Indeed, China and democracy are usually incompatible, at least in the eyes of the West. The general perception is that China’s phenomenal achievement has been primarily in the economic sphere, while political reform has been sluggish. This is untrue. From Mao’s totalitarianism to Deng’s authoritarianism to the current leadership’s socialist approach and discourse on democracy, China has undergone a dramatic political transformation.
“Democracy with Chinese characteristics” has been hailed as the only logical path to China’s road to democracy by its advocates and regarded as Chinese propaganda by its opponents. This has provoked some to question what democracy means for the Chinese. Others in the West are justifiably concerned that China may fundamentally change the perception of – thereby challenging the Western model of – democracy.
However, Chinese leaders, at least in their talk, seem to acknowledge that there is a universally accepted meaning of democracy. Premier Wen Jiabao was quoted in 2006 as saying, “When we talk about democracy, we usually refer to the three most important components: election, judicial independence, and supervision based on checks and balances.”
He has recently reaffirmed his stand for political reform both at home and aboard though his liberal democratic talk was partly censored by his own press. President Hu also repeatedly stated that there will be no modernisation without democracy. Those words are indeed encouraging, but critics cast their doubt on the party’s genuine commitment to democracy and see statements like these more as political rhetoric to win public support and thereby strengthen party power.
China has more than 1.3 billion people,
of which 70 million, more than the total
UK population, are members of the country’s
ruling party: the Chinese Communist
Party (CCP). Since 1997 CCP membership
has grown 13 percent, far greater than the 5
percent population growth during the same
period. One is indeed justified to be sceptical
about the CCP’s full embrace of democracy,
and the distinctly remote likelihood of
a multiparty system...............
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