The year 2021 has begun globally on a note of hope and positivity to salvage and restore humanity and the humanitarian resolve to prevail against all odds.
However, China’s state-controlled Global Times came up with an acerbic opinion-editorial titled “‘End of history’ obsession links to West’s problem with democracy” published on December 30, 2020. The op-ed challenged American political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s theory wherein he underscored the preeminence of the Western democratic system, and the argument that a democratic system with accountability serves better in the long run.
Asserting Favor, China Touts Authoritarianism
Strangely, the Global Times opinion piece juxtaposes Fukuyama’s theoretical construct on democracy and its tenets to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is “right under this system that a humanitarian tragedy has claimed over 330,000 lives in the U.S. alone and killing more” argues the Global Times article.
It goes on to cite “institutional advantages of China as the main reason why China was among the first countries to contain the epidemic and start its economic recovery.”
It only needs to be remembered and noted that China has “managed” the epidemic from its initial outbreak in Wuhan, beginning with its decisions on allowing international and domestic flights out of the pandemic’s epicenter in 2019 and 2020. Of late, Beijing has further “managed” the epidemic by strategizing to win friends and cut deals the world over through it’s “vaccine trade.” Reportedly, four Chinese vaccine makers are testing efficacy trials in 15 countries.
Quoting 2020 as “an extraordinary year, facing the ‘sudden’ coronavirus pandemic,” Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and President, Xi Jinping, delivered his New Year address from Beijing, declaring China as “the first major economy worldwide to achieve positive growth, and its GDP in 2020 expected to step up to a new level of 100 trillion yuan.”
Moreover, Xi also announced that the 13th Five-Year Plan has been fully accomplished, while the 14th Five-Year Plan is being “comprehensively formulated.” According to an account of a consultant-member of two ministries and a western province figuring in the 14th Five-Year Plan, the latter stresses a global vision and China’s expanding (read: expansionist) outreach.
Irony of Xi’s Words and What the World Sees
Significantly, 2021 will see the 100th birth anniversary of the Communist Party of China and its “original aspiration remains even firmer one hundred years later,” according to Xi Jinping. From Shikumen in Shanghai to the South Lake in Jiaxing City, Xi referred to the small red boat (where the first party congress concluded) bore the “great trust of the people and the hope of the nation.”
Herein lies the greatest paradox for the Chinese people and China as a nation. The irony of 1.39 billion people unable to choose, identify, and protest peacefully, yet being rendered incapicated to express itself, is perhaps the greatest curse of being alive.
It is in this backdrop that Xi Jinping’s statement, “[W]e adhere to putting people at the center, and…realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” appears contradictory and inconsistent.
A multiparty democratic system, representative of its people, based on universal adult suffrage on a common voters’ roll, remains the minimum acceptable constitutional threshold for a “rejuvenated China” of the 21st century.
Measuring China Against the Backdrop of Basic Freedoms
It is unlikely for a nation, least of all a communist dictatorship, to recreate or be stimulated in the name of “rejuvenation of a nation” where the voice, identity, and protection of civil liberties of the very people that constitute that nation are being suppressed, controlled, and violated beyond limits. Freedom of expression in any walk of life in China is inexplicably restricted.
Take for instance, labor unions. International Relations Professor at Renmin University and Advisor to China’s State Council, Shi Yinhong, recently stated the obvious, being blunt in his comment: “Can you imagine China with independent labor unions? Forced labor also relates to Xinjiang, so that is another ‘No’ for China.”
Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid revolutionary and arguably one of the greatest South Africans, served as the country’s president, becoming the first elected colored head of state in a fully representative democratic election. In his bestselling autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela defined democracy in its purest form as one when everyone who wanted to speak did so, free to voice their opinions and equal in their value as citizens.
Mandela always professed that democracy meant all people were to be heard. Today, any democracy should, and does, swear by the fundamentals of its constitution and the constitutional guarantees of equal rights, and equality before the law protecting its citizens.
These conceptual tenets are alien to and unheard of by China’s 1.39 billion populace.
The People’s Republic of China under the rule of its Communist Party will continue to formidably challenge the 21st century’s liberal global order and its encouraging belief that democratic freedoms, universal human rights, democratic practice, and the rule of law have history on their side and will eventually prevail.
As the Chinese Communist Party approaches its centennial on July 23, 2021, the clash between the CCP’s repressive values and practices and the freedoms enshrined in the United Nations universal declaration of human rights shall reverberate even more profoundly. Prominent among those core values are the freedom of speech, assembly, religion and belief; freedom from persecution; the right to personal privacy; and equal protection under the law.
The CCP rejects all the above in words and deeds, choosing to question the free world instead. The glaring sardonicism herein, of course, is that China is “allowed” to question, criticize, and debate since it is engaging in a conversation with the free and liberal world, where questioning and debate is welcome.
Author: Monika Chansoria
Dr. Monika Chansoria is a senior fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The Japan Institute of International Affairs or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweets @MonikaChansoria. Find other articles by Dr. Chansoria here on JAPAN Forward.