Tuesday, December 7, 2021

China's Ambassador Defends his Government, or, Is Democracy a Good Thing?

Fascinating op-ed at The National Interest, co signed by the Ambassadors to the US of China and Russia:

Peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom are common values of humanity. Democracy is not a prerogative of a certain country or a group of countries, but a universal right of all peoples. It can be realized in multiple ways, and no model can fit all countries. Whether a country’s path works depends on whether it meets the country’s realities, follows the trend of the times, and brings about economic development, social stability and progress, and better lives for the people. Ultimately, it relies on the support of the people and will be proven by its contribution to human progress.

Therefore, a basic criterion of democracy should be about the people, i.e. whether the people have the right to govern their country, whether their needs are met, and whether they have a sense of fulfillment and happiness. If the people are only awakened when casting their votes and sent back to hibernation when the voting is over, if they are served with sweet-sounding slogans in campaigns but have no say after the election, if they are wooed during canvassing but left out in the cold after that, this is not a genuine democracy.

What China has is an extensive, whole-process socialist democracy. It reflects the people’s will, suits the country’s realities, and enjoys strong support from the people. In China, the people have the right to elections, and they can get deeply involved in national governance, exercising their power through the People's Congresses at the national and other levels. China has eight non-Communist parties participating in governance, as well as a unique system and corresponding institutions of political consultation. On matters concerning people's keen interests, there are broad-based and sufficient consultations and discussions before any decision is made. Policies and measures can only be introduced when there is a consensus that they are what the people want and will serve the people’s needs. It has been proved that the whole-process democracy works in China, and works very well. China calls for building a community with a shared future for mankind. As residents of the same global village, we should handle international affairs through consultation.

It has to be said that elections are not the end-all and be-all of life, and that many if not most people care more about jobs and social order. The ongoing debate we have in the US, about whether our old racist, sexist democracy should be celebrated, raises another issue: democracy really can lead to intensified ethnic conflict and the oppression of minorities. But I think it remains true that even with all its flaws a properly functioning democracy is still better than any other system, with more scope for self-correction and more freedom for dissenters. Some anarchists would love a sort of soviet system in which local committees elect representatives to higher level committees and so on, but the experience of Russia and China shows that this leads to capture of the system by insiders, not people power.

And then this:

There has seen no shortage of wars and turmoil worldwide to prove that spreading “democracy,” its political system, and values against other countries’ will severely undermine regional and international peace, security, and stability. Bombings of Yugoslavia, military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, and “democratic transformation” do nothing but harm. Countries should focus on running their own affairs well, not condescendingly criticizing others.

I agree with this completely; the on-again, off-again US project of promoting democracy by force has not gone very well, and I suspect it is true that democracy is just not an option for some places. But without democracy, how does anybody know what a "nation's will" is? Dictatorial regimes love to equate their own desire's with the nation's and their own power with that of the whole people, but I don't believe them. Even if it is true that for some nations in some periods dictatorship is the best option, democracy is still the best system and the world's oppressed people long for it with good reason.


David said...

One could say many things about the issues you raise, but I want to mention two:

First, China and Russia both really represent particular ethnicities. Their philosophy is nationalist sectarianism. That's what they are. The fact that their nationalities are particularly large should not obscure the fact that, in essence, they are really no different from Serbia or Israel. I'm not saying this makes China and Russia bad--or at least, although I've made much of my disesteem for ethnic sectarianism, that is not my point here. My point is that they do not represent abstract ideals of government in the way the US does. That doesn't make the US "good" either, necessarily. But it's a major reason why claims like the one that China stands for "whole-process socialist democracy" ring false--not because China is not a democracy or because Chinese dissidents are jailed, or whatever, but because, in China's case (as in many others), democracy or any other system is beside the point. The point is the ethnic identity. China would be China whether it was a monarchy or dictatorship or a democracy or a chaos.

Second, I think lumping all US interventions in the world together does no service to real understanding. Bush's invasion of Iraq was not of a piece with, say, Obama's campaign against ISIS. The first was a dumb fantasy about spreading electoral democracy. The second was an attempt to block the spread of something really bad. The alternative would be to have been to let ISIS genocide the Yazidis, local Assyrian Christians, and other minorities. Perhaps we should have let that happen, as we have done in other places. But "the bombing of Yugoslavia," to take another example, was not just another dumb fantasy about spreading Americanism. The alternatives in that case were not everyone getting along vs. American arrogance. The fate of the Kosovars would have been really bad if we hadn't intervened. Again, perhaps we should not have intervened. But let us be clear about what we're talking about.

Shadow said...

Well we could have two more interventions in the near future -- Ukraine and Taiwan -- so perhaps this is a good time to determine what the people's will is, rather than waiting until it's too late. My feeling is the powers that be would prefer we didn't have that conversation.

And what would those interventions be, dumb fantasies or the attempt to stop something really bad?

David said...


Well, I offered those two possibilities (dumb fantasies or the attempt to stop something really bad) because they seem to characterize many recent events, but I don't think they cover all motives or characterize all interventions. Certainly we intervened in Afghanistan in order to get revenge for 9/11. So that's another possibility.

If crises come in either Ukraine or Taiwan, and we intervene in either or both, I think the dominant note will be a regretful sense that we have no choice. And if we don't intervene, I think again the dominant note will be a regretful sense that we just can't do it. I don't think very many people in the US, including in the defense establishment, are feeling particularly bellicose toward the outside world right now, aside from some on the right who want to attack Iran.

Shadow said...

Acting and not acting can end in the same result. No one should think not acting is necessarily safer. I just listened to a previous administration White House official -- sorry don't recall his name -- insist Putin is bluffing, because he doesn't want Russians seeing Russian soldiers returning in bodybags. How about Chechnya, Georgia, and Crimea? Hasn't he built his popularity on spreading empire and exerting Russian power?

Having said that, Didn't we concede Taiwan to China when we agreed all those years back that Taiwan is part of China? I don't know what excuse the U.S. would offer for involving itself in what is an internal matter. My thinking is our response should not go beyond criticizing China publicly. On the other hand, if Taiwan is part of China, what is our justification for giving Taiwan weapons and placing military advisors on the island? Sounds pretty provocative to me.

As to Ukraine, My best judgment is no one wants to bother with it, except Russia, and I don't see why the U.S. should involve itself more than Europe does.

szopen said...

Being Polish living in Poland, right next to the primary military target of potential Russian nuclear strike I am maybe a bit biased, but we are here caring quite a lot about whether Ukraine will be an effecitvely Russian vassal or independent country. The potential refugee problem is quite a different thing, we already have millions of Ukrainians and no one even notices that until they open their mouth and speak with that beautiful borderland accent. But Russia invading Ukraine, making their presence stronger in Belarus AND flexing their muscles with gas... This scares the bejeezus out of most of us.

Shadow said...


From your perspective how worried do you think Nato countries, EU countries, and Eastern European countries are over Ukraine, and what are they willing to do about it?

szopen said...


I can't say about other EU and NATO countries. Poland is worried and so are Baltic countries. Now, what we are willing to do about it? That's hard. I guess there wouldn't be much besides condemnation, sanctions and maybe same we did with Georgia-Russian war, silently sending Georgians modern weaponry. The thing is I do not think Germany or France would do anything except some loud PR actions. And I do not think anyone would risk full-scale war over Ukraine, for whom we formally have no obligations whatsoever.

I do not think even Russia would do anything and possibly they are just posturing, to prevent the Ukrainian possible offensive on Donbass (there were gossips that Ukrainians bought drones from Turkey and used them to kill off Russian "volunteers" servicing artillery there, and that they are ready to go and reclaim the territory of the republics)..


Just before the Crimea/Donbass I was discussing on one Polish forum about whether Putin would take over Crimea and whether he would send any help to Russian speaking protesters in Ukraine. The guy I was talking to was certain that he would, that Putin would take over Crimea and would try to punch a corridor to it from Donbass. He also thought offensive on Kiev is possible. I thought he is crazy. What would Putin gain from Crimea, which would balance the losses to the economy caused by sanctions and which would balance the lost of potential fifth column in Ukraine (which would've helped him preserve Russian interests) which would balance alienation of the Ukrainian people? I was absolutely sure nothing will happen. Since that time I decided I will never ever try to do any prediction related to Russia.

David said...

I have a smart, fairly knowledgeable friend who thinks that Putin sees reconstituting at least the Slavic part of the old Soviet Union as his life's work. He wants to see that happen, and he wants to be the one to do it.

I suspect that, if there were some way the US and its allies could absolutely guarantee that that was all Putin and his successors would do, they would let it happen. The danger is that he and/or his successors would want to go farther than that, perhaps into the Baltics.

Shadow said...

Thanks, Szopen.

I agree with what you said, except that I'm more pessimistic about Putin's intentions than you are. My thinking is more in line with David's (and his friend's).

G. Verloren said...


The Baltics are member states of NATO, though. Any attack by Russia on one of the Baltic countries would be an attack on virtually all of Europe, plus the United States - an outcome that would be very, very bad for Russia.

David said...


Indeed. The question is, would letting Russia have the two Slavic republics tempt their government to think that we would also not defend the Baltics? Or would the US government worry that, if we didn't back up Ukraine, the Russian government would think we were not really determined to defend the Baltics either? I think the latter would be the prime motive, either in that form or the more abstract but related form of "credibility," that the USG would back up Ukraine.

Shadow said...

Reading, watching, and listening to western leaders these past several years has left me with the clear impression that Ukraine is a bothersome pest the West hoped would fall off the map while it procrastinated over its fate. Another lesson learned: never give up your nukes, and if you don't have time, get them.

Shadow said...

Whoops, time = them