In response, China has stepped up its propaganda efforts in an effort to promote an alternative model of “democracy,” twisting the definition of the term to fit its own authoritarian one-party system.
“This is a preemptive strike on Biden’s democracy summit,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong Baptist University. “Now China feels that it should be not only defensive, but also offensive.”
In his keynote speech, Huang Kunming, the propaganda czar of the ruling Communist Party, praised China’s so-called “people’s democracy of the whole process” – a concept put forth by Chinese leader Xi Jinping – and described it as a “true democracy that works.” .”
Huang later explained the theory, confusingly emphasizing that it “integrates process-oriented democracy with results-oriented democracy, procedural democracy with material democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy, and people’s democracy with the will of the state.”
Simultaneously with the event, the Chinese cabinet, the State Council, on Saturday with great fanfare released a white paper entitled ‘China: Democracy that Works’.
“There is no fixed model of democracy; it manifests itself in many forms. Judging the myriad political systems in the world by a single yardstick and examining diverse political structures in black and white is in itself undemocratic,” the 13,000 said. word document.
Chinese activists who call for democracy are routinely silenced, harassed and imprisoned, including Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in prison in 2017 after spending nearly a quarter of his life behind bars.
Of course, none of this is mentioned in China’s latest propaganda offensive. Instead, it’s trying to cloud the waters about what constitutes a democracy, said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.
“This is a battle over the global discourse on democracy. They (Chinese officials) have gotten used to the idea that if you make a claim and repeat it often enough, you can really go a long way,” he said.
Xi, China’s supreme leader, has repeatedly stressed that the country must “compete for international power in the discourse.”
But China’s rush to declare itself a democracy may also be driven by a sense of growing necessity.
Since Biden took office, the US has reversed its inward-looking withdrawal from the global stage under Trump and redoubled its efforts to build alliances with like-minded partners to counter China’s rising influence — a challenge Biden characterizes as part of a broader ideological struggle between democracies and autocracies.
While China’s self-proclaimed model of democracy is unlikely to convince democratic countries — especially in the developed world — Yang, the expert at the University of Chicago, said it could find a more receptive audience in the global south.
China has framed its “democracy” as one that is more effective in meeting people’s needs, highlighting the country’s rapid economic development.
“I think some of the emphasis on producing results can really convince people,” Yang said. “One should not underestimate the percentage of people who are willing to sacrifice some elements of democracy for better economic well-being.”
The emphasis on performance also carries dangers, Yang warned. “When the economy slows down, you risk looking really bad. And when it worsens significantly into a crisis, it raises questions (regarding legitimacy).”
But the Chinese Communist Party also claims it is a “process-oriented democracy,” pointing to the country’s multi-tiered legislative system as evidence. In theory, deputies to the legislature at the village and county level are directly elected by the residents, who in turn are tasked with electing deputies to the higher level, and so on. At the very top of the system is the National People’s Congress, a parliamentary body that meets annually to approve major decisions and policies of the party.
In practice, however, these grassroots ‘elections’ are highly scripted affairs. And under Xi, it has become virtually impossible for independent candidates — especially those who disagree with the party — to play a part in the process.
“To put it simply, China’s ‘democracy’ is under the dictatorship of the Communist Party,” said Cabestan of Hong Kong Baptist University.
“So if you are obedient to the party, if you accept the dictatorship of the party, you can participate in political life. If not, you will be expelled.”
In its white paper, the Chinese government states that “whether a country is democratic should be judged by its people, not dictated by a handful of outsiders.” But even within China, there are signs that many are not convinced by the official story.
‘Who ever elected a representative to the People’s Congress? Who ever voted?’ said one of the best comments. “I’m not even an ‘extra’ in the show,” said another.
These comments were later removed. Of the more than 2,700 comments, only a dozen were allowed to be shown – all critical of democracy in the US.
One user shared the post, noting, “(China is) so democratic it doesn’t need the comment section anymore.”