Over the last 32 years, China has undergone an impressive economic transformation, including an average growth of the country’s GDP at an average annual rate of 9.5 percent. In recent years China has overtaken Germany and Japan to become the world’s second largest economy. In 2008, as the world was engulfed by economic crisis, China emerged as the counterbalance to the failing economies of the West, achieving GDP growth of 11.2% in 2010.
China’s unprecedented economic growth has astonished the world, but the global opinion of China’s rise has become heavily distorted. Many people in the West might say, yes, China is rising as a new economic power in the world, but the development of China’s political systems has greatly lagged and democracy seems to be non-existent. In my view, this is a misunderstanding.
China’s use of democracy in the advancement of the Chinese people is traditionally overlooked by the international community. Direct elections for heads of villages and party secretaries have been a vital element in the country’s transition to a social democracy. Another shift towards a more democratic society has been the creation of public recommendations and direct elections for party leaders at the township level.
Civil society has been emerging as an increasing lure in social and political life from prohibiting civil organizations in the past to encouraging increased individual participation. In fact, even human rights have become a basic political value and have been written into the constitution of China. Another primary focus of the Chinese has been the safeguarding of the rights of migrant workers, through trade unions.
Constructing a government under the rule of law, along with accountability, transparency, and service oriented development, became a basic requirement in recent years. Public hearings of the Standing Committee are now carried out across the country.
So what constitutes China’s roadmap towards political development?
In China, everything has certain “Chinese characteristics,” including China’s political development. Since China began its political transition, one of the most important factors has been incremental democratic reforms based on the desire to avoid a disorganized one-time transition to democracy
A pluralist structure of governance with an emphasis on the core value of stability placed above all else, is absolutely critical to the political development of China. The use of both the rule of law and the rule of man is an also an important attribute to our democratic transition.
So why are there so many significant changes in China’s political landscape?
First, China’s transition from a command economy to a social market economy forced a change in the country’s political structure. Second, the livelihood of the people dramatically improved as new political demands emerged. Third, a collection of different interest groups began to form with desires to express their interests. As these groups became more prominent, they began to have a larger role in the decision-making process of the government. Finally, the impact of globalization has had a remarkable impact on the political system of China.
The most important political development thus far has been the transition of the Chinese Communist Party from a revolutionary party to the ruling party. It is important to note that China is still a developing power and social stability is a precondition for economic development. China is still in the process of transitioning from a traditional society to a modern one, therefore the idea of “incremental reform” must be utilized.
So what are the challenges and reform focus in the near future?
On the one hand, China has made tremendous progress during its gradual democratic transition. On the other hand, it is facing many formidable obstacles, including the imperfections in supervision of the elections processes. An effective mechanism for checks and balances on power is still not in place, and the channels for further public participation need to be broadened further.
China still lacks a mechanism to counter the selfish behaviors of state bureaucracy. Corruption is still rampant in today’s China and the public service by the government is far from enough.
Today, public service by the government is far from enough; there is no mechanism to legalize dynamic stability. Political transparency must be enhanced in order for a successful democratic transition. A reduction in administration costs must be realized in order to reduce public expenses.
In my opinion, further government reform is needed in the near future, including a firm push towards rule of law. The efforts to combat social injustices and reduce apparent social disparities must be furthered. Additionally, deliverance of quality public services will be key to the establishment of a service-oriented government. Finally, punishment of the wildly corrupt officials will promote transparent governance and will lead to the strengthening of social management in China.
Democratic governance in China will come, but we will face the same difficulties every country must overcome on the road to a transparent government and social democracy.
Yu Keping is deputy director of the Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.