In many countries of the world, people have lived through the intensity of the US Presidential Election and the drama of the long drawn out result. It has been compelling television watching the experts on CNN review the votes in each precinct for each party – how many? – for which party? – what significance? – who gained and who lost? And then more results and more analysis interspersed with gloss and spin from either party as they claim a breakthrough for themselves or discredit an advance by their opponents.
It is compelling viewing. It is politics in action, so we are told. The nation votes; the tellers count; the results are tabulated and then there is the final pronouncement; Biden Wins. Trump Loses.
Now my purpose is not to re-write the story of the Election but instead to anticipate criticisms of China for denying its people the right to engage in democratic elections. “Look at America”, the narrative goes “We are a democracy. White or Black, Man or Woman – Everyone Votes. The People decide. The Votes are counted by independent assessors. The Totals are Added, The Results are Announced. The Winners Win and the Losers Lose. The People are in charge. Democracy prevails over Dictatorship. The US Wins, China loses”
And then there is the contrast with China. Power is in the Party. The Party discusses who are to be the Party’s leaders. It is done behind close doors. There are no broadcasts on television from rival groups. A process takes place and leaders are evaluated and decisions are made after votes have occurred but, by comparison with the West, this is all done without public scrutiny. New leaders emerge and their period in office can be extended without reference back to the people.
But the US is not as good as claimed and China is not as bad as alleged. Consider how Trump has avoided showing his tax returns to the people – the true scale of his debts have not been disclosed and searching questions remain as to the bail out he has received from Russian banks – and the impact that has had on his pro-Putin leanings Then, there is his self-enrichment by the persistent use he has made of his own golf resorts to entertain foreign dignitaries, and the reward of high office to friends and cronies.
Compare this with the far reaching powers granted by the Communist Party Leadership to the Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate corruption by party leaders at all levels of government. Xi Jinping was quite clear that popular support would be lost if the Party allowed corruption to go unpunished. The requirement in China is absolute – serve the people and not your pocket. Corrupt officials do receive lengthy terms of imprisonment.
But there is another measure to the issues we are discussing. What is the purpose of democracy? – Is it to hold elections and change governments or is it to advance social progress and the well-being of the people?
China in 1949, was the Sick Man of Asia. A country, ravaged by the Twenty Year Civil War with the Kuomintang, and the World War II defeat of Japan, was weak vulnerable and demoralised when Mao ushered in the Peoples Republic of China on 1 October 1949. Just as the Imperialist countries invaded the USSR in 1918 so the Korean War was the US attempt to strangle the infant new China in 1950-51. The Party took control and notwithstanding the Famines of 1958/59, the Ten Year Cultural Revolution to 1976 and the Tiananmin Uprising of 1989, China has surged ahead lifting 500m people out of poverty and providing its population with a standard of living well beyond their dreams when Mao set about the task of rebuilding the ravaged China in 1949.
China has achieved because the Party has achieved. China is where it is today – on the verge of becoming the biggest economic power in the world – because the Party has been control and rejected Western notions of democracy. Now consider again the US – Prof Kishore Mahbubani in his book Has China Won comments on the assumption that the American population Is thriving and the Chinese population is stagnating. The facts suggest otherwise, he asserts. “In the last 30 years the US is the only developed society where the average income of the bottom 50% of the population has fallen. In the same period the Chinese people have experienced the greatest improvement in the standard of living ever seen in Chinese history”.
The US has Elections but its people in the inner cities are hurting from drugs, crime and unemployment. China does not have Elections but its people “have never had it so good”. Democracy is about more than just Elections. The true measure of a democracy is whether it produces a system of government which promotes prosperity for all and a life style which allows its people to go about their daily activities with ease, good humour and enjoyment. It is relevant to recall that in 2019 135m Chinese tourists travelled abroad to many countries of the world and they all returned home. You do not return home in such enormous numbers if you are unhappy. China does not have a free press or a right to directly elect its leaders but it has a democracy with Chinese characteristics which has as its number one goal – to further improve the well being of the people.