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Society & Culture

The Case for an Orderly Democracy in China

Jul 22, 2013
  • Yu Keping

    Deputy Director, CPCCC Compilation and Translation Bureau

When I made the remark that democracy was a good thing, I meant that democracy could bring great benefit to the people. But greater democracy, as a precondition, must not lead to social disorder. Nor must it in any way bring suffering to the people. Promoting an orderly democracy in China, in my view, requires that we follow a “Five Corrects” approach.

First, we need to find the correct direction. Democracy is the life-blood of our republic, which is not something one can like or dislike. It has already become an irresistible trend of history. When we talk about realizing our Chinese dream for a great national renewal, one indispensable ingredient is a high level of development of democracy and rule of law. The path of development of a Chinese style socialist political culture, in a nutshell, underscores an organic unity of three elements, namely, the leadership by the Communist Party, the people being masters of their own country and administering the country in accordance with the law. The core of the three elements is the role of the people as masters of their own country. The political report to the 18th Party Congress last year emphatically pointed out that we must maintain the people’s principal position in the country, steadily promote democracy and rule of law and fulfill our historic mandate as Communists. This is the correct direction we must follow.

Second, we need to find the correct timing. Promoting democracy requires certain practical conditions. Doing it either too early or too late will not get us anywhere. We have had some bitter lessons in doing it too early, such as the time we once called for “running into Communism double time”. But failure to conduct needed political reform and to promote democracy in a timely fashion could also cause serious problems. For example, the prolonged delay in stamping out corruption, which our people loathes so much, is directly related to the procrastination of certain structural reforms. What is more, the awkward situation facing the asset disclosure of our public officials, the declining credibility of the government, and many others, are all related to either loopholes in our existing systems, or a continued lack of needed reforms. It is therefore the responsibility of our political leaders to launch needed political reform at an appropriate time. It is also the reflection of their ability to be wise and responsible. Here, having a true sense of responsibility is more important than being wise and capable.

Third, we need to find a correct approach. To conduct political reform in such a large country as ours, we must guide ourselves with a rational road map. It is my consistent view that three approaches stand to be selected: The first one is moving from intra-Party democracy to socialized democracy. This is the most cost-effective approach for the development of democracy in China. The second one is moving from community-level democracy to higher-level democracy. On the one hand, the state may have adequate resources to control and regulate practices for democracy at local levels. And on the other hand, community-level democracy can deliver benefits directly to the people. The third one is moving from minimum competition to increasingly greater competition. Even allowing for maximum Chinese characteristics, the democracy we are building in China should include elements of election and competition.

Fourth, we need to find a correct methodology. The correct methodology with which we promote democracy in China must ensure a balance in the following six aspects: a) we need both democracy and rule of law, and neither should be pursued at the expense of the other; b) we need both consultation and election, and in no circumstances should we opt exclusively for consultation and shun competitive elections; c) we should value both freedom and equality; d) we should cherish both efficiency and justice, attaching even greater importance to justice for the time being; e) we should encourage both participation and order; and f) we should value both individual rights and public interests.

Fifth, we need to find a correct strategy. We should first and foremost make an overall plan with well-thought-out points of implementation and set up a decision-making body particularly at the central level, which is capable of coordinating the interests of the various parties. We should make sure that reform of the government goes hand in hand with the reform of the Party. Then, we should continue working on the pilot projects, summing up the successful experience of the target areas and popularizing it at the level of institutional reform. Finally, we should strike a breakthrough in the major areas while promoting the reform across the board. Intra-Party democracy should be one such major area for possible breakthrough.

In conclusion, many of us are concerned that greater democracy might risk public disorder and social chaos, as we all want to see social stability maintained along with greater democracy. In my view, however, deepening political reform and promoting democracy and rule of law in real earnest are precisely what China needs right now if we want our country to enjoy lasting social stability and our people to reap the benefit of democracy.

Yu Keping is deputy director of the Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. He is also a professor of politics at Peking University and the author of “Democracy is a Good Thing” (Brookings Institution Press, 2009.

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