China’s Stance Toward the ”American Model of Democracy”

11.30.16
Photo illustration by John Lyman
World News /30 Nov 2016
11.30.16

China’s Stance Toward the ”American Model of Democracy”

The 2016 presidential election in the United States has been extensively covered by the world media, and the result unsurprisingly received different reactions. While the analysts, scholars and government officials worry about the potential implications of Mr. Trump’s election, the election per se also became a target for some Chinese state/party-sponsored media to criticize the “American model of democracy.”

It is worth noting that the Chinese government, despite protests against its authoritarian style of governance, still brands itself as a democratic regime, or as state media often explains, Chinese democracy is uniquely characterized by socialism with Chinese characteristics. As Chapter I of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states, China is “under the people’s democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants,” and state organs “apply the principle of democratic centralism.” Thus, Chinese media does not dismiss democracy altogether, and they choose their wording selectively, targeting them only on the American form of democracy.

In an opinion piece on Qiushi (Seeking Truth), a periodical published by the Central Committee of the Chinese Community Party and the Central Party School, the author describes the American model of democracy as “hypocritic” and “corruptive.” It criticizes both candidates for questionable tactics, including Secretary Hillary’s alleged “money laundering,” “manipulation of media,” and “murdering of opponents,” and Mr. Trump’s “ignorance” and “maliciousness.”

The author criticizes the “money politics” of American democracy, stating it simply ignored what people want and deviated from core democratic principles. The author says that there is a “vibrant and accomplished” alternative to Western democracy—socialism with Chinese characteristics with a one-party political system, praising the economic achievements it has so far accomplished and stating that Chinese people trust their government. In his concluding remark, the author urges readers to have confidence in their own political institution. Similar posts or opinion pieces published on other state/party controlled media outlets follow the same line of reasoning: repudiation of American democracy followed by praise of China’s unique political institutions.

On the other hand, in articles that are not purely opinion pieces, authors tend to emphasize the uniqueness of Chinese political systems and reserve their attacks on the American model of democracy per se. Interestingly, often these authors quote from American political scientist Samuel Huntington who once highlighted the plurality and heterogeneity of civilizations and the uniqueness of Western civilization’s political values. In an article titled “Reflections on American democracy and the future of Chinese democracy,” the author refrains from a complete dismissal of American democracy. Instead, he quotes from Karl Marx’s admiration for the United States in setting a perfect example for modern nation states, and Francis Fukuyama’s normative support for Western democracy articulated in his book the End of History. He goes on to say that American democracy has, however, been drowned in “veto politics” and “money politics,” betraying the principles upon which it was founded, especially under the context of the 2016 presidential election.

The author states that Chinese and American democracies are different ways of achieving “good governance,” and Chinese democracy, characterized by socialism with Chinese characteristics and democratic dictatorship by the people, has demonstrated its advantages through the incredible modernization of China. In concluding remarks, the author states that what is relevant is whether a political system could alter and improve itself through time and ensure its legitimacy through economic development instead of forced imposition of values on other countries. Finally, the author asks for mutual respect for each country’s political institutions.

Indeed, those authors’ emphasis on the uniqueness of the Chinese political system often comes with their disapproval of, if not outright attack on, the U.S.’s exportation of its democratic values, and they squarely reject the idea that the American model or values of democracy are universal.

In a collection of opinion pieces published by People’s Daily in June 2015, Professor Xin Ming from the Central Party School states that the American model of democracy is rooted in its history, culture, and even geography. He quotes from Tocqueville that these individual factors cannot be copied. U.S.’s forced imposition of its own values, dressed as “universal” in nature, only serves to sustain American hegemony and disturb economic development and cultural heritage in other countries. The author states that the “paranoia” of the American government in imposing its own democratic system has directly resulted in the surge of Islamic extremism as a backlash to the suppression of indigenous cultures and religion. He concludes that while the American model of democracy is, to some extent, a great asset to the United States, it becomes the “flower of evil” when it is forcefully imposed on other countries where different cultures thrive.

In the same post, Kong Fanke, a local party official, expresses similar views. He states that America’s exportation of democratic values is emblematic of what Samuel Huntington describes as the “clash of civilization,” and the American model of democracy only crashes and devastates the culture and traditions of other civilizations. The global expansion of American democracy, as Kong says, creates a grave challenge to the political and cultural ecology in China. In closing, Kong states that there is no “universal form of democracy,” and the American model is not supreme or almighty. Countries should stick to the reality of their history, cultures, and traditions, thus choosing the best form of democracy.

It is worth noting that many scholars in China devote themselves to the study of so-called “ideological security.” In an article that discusses the construction of ideological security against the background of the exportations of Western democracies, the authors’ line of reasoning exemplifies the stance taken by the Chinese Communist Party. The authors believe that there still exists a “Cold War” among countries who seek to uphold the legitimacy of their political institutions while invalidating others through ideological competition. Under such a context, China becomes the primary target under the West’s radar and has been under the attack or infiltration of Western democratic values, the American model in particular, and the legitimacy of “Chinese Democracy” is threatened. Export and anti-export of Western democracies is the primary battlefield of this “ideological competition.” The critical issue, as the authors explain, is that the West, the United States in particular, is overwhelmingly hegemonic in interpreting the parameters and meaning of democracy, while China and other socialist countries are much weaker in their interpretations.

The article quotes from what French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu describes as “cultural capital” and “symbolic violence,” and what the Western world is applying through exportation of Western democratic values, according to the authors, is a form of “soft violence.” The article lists four methods through which Western democracy is exported: first, through governments, such as white papers on China’s human rights violations; through social behaviors, such as reports issued by NGOs; third, through digital media, for example, that media are purposefully interpreting the so-called “color revolutions” to meet their own agendas, and disparage the Chinese government and Communist party despite their “democratic progress”; forth, through religion, the authors believe that Christian converts in China have become the backbone in spreading Western ideologies. The article goes on to recommend countermeasures: China must alter the status quo and confirm the legitimacy of the Chinese model of democracy to the world by “informing” the public through media and further developing Chinese democratic model.

The Chinese government, Communist Party, and their controlled media outlets are not necessarily holding an irreconcilable grudge against the American model of democracy, or least of all, democratic values in general. Rather, their recognition of the “plurality” of political systems prompts them to acknowledge certain advantages of American democracy. Their attacks and criticism focusing on this particular election tend to point out that American democracy is struggling. Their purposes, in effect, are not to dismiss American democracy entirely; instead, by telling the readers that American democracy is having a rough time, while Chinese democracy is performing well, their intentions are more to institute “confidence” in their political system among Chinese people. What the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the Chinese government, resents is America’s unrelenting exportation of their political systems and the American government’s “obsession” with the notion of “universality” instead of “plurality” of political systems.

With Mr. Trump’s reduced emphasis on America’s mandate to spread American democratic values abroad, maybe we will see fewer hit pieces from Chinese state/party controlled media on American democracy in the future.

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