The Western Media struggles to comprehend the significance of China. In the main the Media does not approve of China because it does not sign up to the traditional Western norms; one man one vote – parliamentary democracy – checks and balances and habeas corpus and there is some truth in the criticism. When the Johnson Government attempted to prorogue Parliament – close it down for nine days – a member of the public (Gina Miller) utilised the UK legal system and succeeded in stopping the Prime Minister. But a one-for-one comparison of democracy in China and the UK fails to recognise the quite different paths the two countries have trod to reach the present day.
The UK has notched milestones in its history such as Magna Carta in 1215, the Great Reform Bill of 1832 and the Representation of the People Act of 1949. At the same time the UK has a tradition of representing the underdog which on a few occasions has led to defeats in the Courts for the Official Prosecutor.
China reaches 2023 having succeeded in leading the people of China in a Civil War against the Kuomintang between 1927 and 1949 and also against the Japanese Invader from 1937 to 1945. The standing of the Party with the people is further enhanced by lifting one billion of its people out of poverty and enabling 137 million of its citizens to travel overseas visiting Europe, North and South America as well as nearby Far East countries.
It is accepted that China’s democracy is more authoritarian than the West’s and it is difficult to envisage a legal challenge in China’s highest Court brought by an individual citizen against President Xi Jinping questioning the legality of actions of the Central Committee of the Party. British people are used to UK democracy and Chinese citizens are used to Chinese Democracy. But remember the answer of the Shanghai female Entrepreneur to Jeremy Paxman’s Question – “But you can’t vote to change your Government?”. Astonished she replied “But why would we want to change our Government.”
But the Western conviction that China represses its people flies in the face of all the evidence that the people of China have benefitted from the remarkable progress the country – led by the Communist Party – has achieved. Check the words used by Ursula von der Leyen in her recent speech in Beijing.
Is Democracy just about one man one vote or is it also about the quality of life? How do we shape the debate about democracy at a time when the Immediate Past President of the United States faces 96 charges of illegal acts and the quite recent UK Prime Minister – Boris Johnson – was ousted following the resignation of 52 members of his Government. I accept that less is known about the working practices of China’s leadership than the practices of Western Governments and the departure from office of the recent Chinese Foreign Minister is clothed in secrecy. But can you imagine the chaos that would reign in the world if Shanghai was ruled by a Johnson and Kwangschow by a Trump and Xinjiang by a Bolsinaro. Arguments will continue about the relative merits of the different systems. For the present the world is facing a big crisis.
The ‘Thucydides Trap’ is a term coined by Harvard professor Graham Allison to . describe the tensions and conflict that occur when an existing great power is confronted with a rising state. According to Allison, as the new power rises, the two are more likely to engage in violent conflict as the new power displaces the old. Shortly China will displace the US and become the world’s largest economy. China has made clear it will not follow the US and become an imperial power. The US has 500+ bases in the Far East – China has just one and that is restricted to servicing its maritime fleet.
The US hopes that China’s present economic difficulties will restrain China’s progress and prolong the era of Pax Americana. A real struggle lies ahead. The US will not yield its #1 position peacefully. China has prepared for the coming crisis. Its eyes are wide open. The US is still blinkered.