On December 2, the China Public Diplomacy Association hosted an event entitled “A Dialogue on Democracy,” which was co-organized by China Forum of Tsinghua University’s Center for International Security and Strategy. Le Yucheng, Vice Foreign Minister of China, delivered a speech at the event, followed by a robust discussion around the theme “What is democracy and who defines it?” among an international panel including Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore; Eric Li, Vice Chairman, China Forum; Martin Jacques, former Senior Fellow, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge; Zhang Weiwei, Dean, China Institute, Fudan University; and John Ross, former Director of Economic and Business Policy for the Mayor of London. The event was also attended by China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying, as well as an international audience of experts, students, and senior journalists. The dialogue was moderated by CGTN anchor Wang Guan, with support from CGTN and Guancha.cn.
China’s democracy is not the kind that wakes up at the time of voting and goes back to
Le Yucheng pointed out that China’s whole-process democracy is not for the few or for any interest groups, but for the majority and all Chinese people; it is not the kind that wakes up at the time of voting and goes back to dormant afterwards, but ensures that the Chinese people have the full right to know, to express, and to supervise. “China is indeed a true democracy,” he said, adding that dividing countries into different levels of a hierarchy and labeling them as “democratic” and “undemocratic” will do no good to global solidarity and development.
Le Yucheng, Vice Foreign Minister of China
The ultimate test of a political system is whether it improves people’s lives, Kishore Mahbubani noted, pointing out that the US today is functioning not as a democracy but a plutocracy.
Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
“Measuring democracy by outcomes”
On the measurements of democracy, Eric Li said that when institutions like Freedom House evaluate democracies, they only measure a particular set of institutional procedures. “We can’t just measure procedures,” he noted, “We should consider measuring democracy by outcomes...... Liberal societies have monopolized the interpretation of democracy and they take their democratic credentials for granted, and that’s dangerous...... There should be many forms of democracies and they can compete to see which is better.”
Eric Li, Vice Chairman, China Forum
Quoting the famous line by Abraham Lincoln—“government of the people, by the people, for the people,” Zhang Weiwei compared democracy in China and America using real-world cases and data. He believes that in the Western political discourse today, a multi-party system and universal suffrage would mean government by the people; yet from the Chinese point of view, it is about good governance.
Zhang Weiwei, Dean, China Institute, Fudan University
“Rule by the people is excluded in a capitalist system of rule by private property”
Martin Jacques noted the irony of Biden’s upcoming Summit for Democracy: “It takes place at a time when democracy in the United States itself has never been weaker…… Certainly not since the Civil War. It is almost as if the insurrection at Capitol Hill earlier this year had never taken place and it was just a bad dream.” He pointed out two profound problems in the Western concept of democracy—a lack of historical context and the failure to understand and respect cultural differences. Ultimately, he said, whatever the form of governance, it has to deliver on behalf of its people.
Martin Jacques, former Senior Fellow, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge
The issue of democracy is about how much in reality rule by the people exists, said John Ross. China has a political system which is determined by real results—improvement in the real lives of people, not by formal processes, he noted, adding that “China’s economy can be brought under rule by the people, which is excluded by a capitalist system of rule of the economy by private property.”
John Ross, former Director of Economic and Business Policy for the Mayor of London
It’s not convincing enough to get the Chinese to consider Western approaches
During the Q&A session, Eric Li responded to a question of BBC’s China correspondent Stephen McDonell on judicial independence and freedom of the press by citing the low approval ratings of the US courts and the declining public trust in media in the US and the UK. “The best way to convince the Chinese to consider adopting some of these things is to make them work in their home countries where those ideas came from and that’s not happening,” he answered.
Watch the replay of the dialogue here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVFqExIbTwg