Why will China succeed?
Prior to the collapse of Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama audaciously wrote an essay (The End of History) that anaesthetised millions, the West in particular for decades: he claimed liberal democracy to be the end point of history triumphing over the socialist Soviet Union in 1991.
Time has told us it was little more than a parochial view.
Which brings us to what democracy is.
Abraham Lincoln summed up the nature of democracy best. He extolled the virtues of what he called “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”.
However, democracy has, disappointingly, been patented by the West centuries ago. To their minds, a democracy must have multi-party, free, competitive elections, and political power transitions between parties or vice versa.
Hitherto the idea of democracy versus autocracy still resonates among the echo chambers of Western societies. A student of logic could easily identify a logical fallacy in the statement.
Yes, it is a false binary.
Viewing from the West’s prism, China is an autocratic state but has paradoxically succeeded in transforming itself into a superpower whose competence rivals that of the United States of America (USA).
Instead, we should usher in a new paradigm shift from democracy versus autocracy to good governance and bad governance. Using this universal yardstick, we would then be able to determine whether a country is for the people.
This article will explain the ways through which China’s good governance would render her the destined winner amidst the US-China decoupling.
China, a civilisation-state, had imperial examinations to select candidates for the state bureaucracy in the last two millennia till its abolition in the late Qing Dynasty. Being the first to develop a meritocratic system, the Chinese continued to practise this tradition even after the establishment of New China in 1949.
To hold the top positions of Chinese leadership, one must have had rich administrative experience in the past.
According to the track records of the incumbent members of the Standing Committee of the Central Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China, usually known as the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), their long public service experiences have affirmed their leadership capabilities.
President Xi Jinping has helmed two major provinces — Fujian and Zhejiang, whereas Premier Li Keqiang Henan and Liaoning Provinces.
Wang Yang, who is also the Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and Han Zheng, Senior Vice Premier of the State Council, were the party secretary and mayor of two direct-administered municipalities of China — Chongqing and Shanghai — respectively.
Such diverse experiences in governing over two hundred million before arriving at the top leadership armed them with the necessary knowledge, insights, and skills in handling 1.4 billion of Chinese collectively.
Western democracy presumes that humans can exercise their reason to think and make rational choices in casting their votes.
So far all relevant scientific studies have proven that human beings can be both rational and irrational. With the growing role of new media, politicians tend to leverage voters’ irrationality, playing the populist card in a hope of winning votes. In fact, we all know Adolf Hitler came into power this way in the 1930s. The rise of new social media today has also furnished a fertile ground for expanding the irrationality of human beings.
The outcome of this is the rise of populism in Western liberal democracies, especially the election of Donald Trump as the 45th U.S. President.
Trump is undoubtedly a newbie in public service and has fired multitudinous experienced cabinet members who are also experts in various fields at his whim. All these actions were grave mistakes that might give way to a breeding ground for groupthink which JFK had managed to forestall at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis more than a half-century ago.
What is more, the western confrontational system has bred politicians if not novices who can sway electorates by cheap talk resulting in neverending partisan conflicts as well as governmental dysfunction.
It is hilarious if anyone could be elected for his eloquence and incompetence.
Procedures are viewed as almighty and sacrosanct in Western democracies. The latter have thus evolved into procedural democracies and who become the rulers is no longer significant as long as procedural justice is achieved.
Though Americans have invariably prided themselves on the non-existent ‘Bad Emperor Problem’ that China might have, sad to say, the U.S. Presidential polls are, in fact, elections without discretion.
In 1977, Deng Xiaoping, the Architect of Modern China, set forth goals of the Four Modernisations aiming to fortify the country’s fields of agriculture, industry, defence, and science and technology.
Emphasis on science and technology became more emphatic after Deng made the statement, “Science and technology are the primary productive forces.”
The then State Scientific and Technological Commission, which is now the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), was responsible for directing the country’s national development in science and technology through cutting-edge technological research and fundamental research.
The Chinese expenditure on Research and Development (R&D) has soared by ten times between 2000 and 2016 (see figure below).
Anyone who has been to the Mainland China would have witnessed the fruits — rapid infrastructural developments — in recent years.
The High-speed rail (HSR) in China is the world’s longest high speed railway network and is also extensively used. Ridership in 2019 was above two billion exceeding the total population of China and the United States combined.
For decades, the United States enjoyed the supremacy at teaching science and engineering at the graduate level, and also in university-based research. But the Chinese have been catching up through improving high schools and universities.
According to the 2018 Times Higher Education ranking, when it comes to research, Tsinghua University claimed the sixth position, above American institutions such as Princeton and Yale as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Between 2000 and 2014, the annual figure of Chinese graduates in science and engineering went from about 359,000 to 1.65 million, while that of US graduates rose from 483,000 to 742000 (See figure below).
The shrewd Chinese leadership understands the importance of a workforce with high levels of science and engineering skills and an education system that can produce such people in sufficient numbers to thrive in a modern, knowledge-based economy.
On the other side of the Pacific, the budget for the National Science Foundation, which is the federal body most responsible for promoting research and funding more and better science education, was actually cut by 1.9 per cent, or $105 million in the fiscal year 2005 budget.
Instead of increasing investment in national development, President George W. Bush shamelessly exploited the emotions of Americans around 9/11 for political purposes shoving the country, ironically known as a city upon a hill, into his planned but ultimately failed war with Iraq that claimed thousands of American soldiers’ lives.
Also, in his 2018 book Has the West Lost It? A Provocation, Kishore Mahbubani, who served as the President of the United Nations Security Council between January 2001 and May 2002 made a point:
The biggest mistake that America could make is to step up its military deployments in East Asia to balance a resurgent China. The more America spends on military expenses, the less effective it will be in the long run in dealing with a far stronger and bigger Chinese economy. In 2015, America spent 3.3 per cent of its GDP on defence; China spent only 1.9 per cent.
This is particularly fortuitous for China’s peaceful development as he also noted:
Ironically, [China would be] privately happy that America focuses on military solutions while it focuses on economic development.
Government of the People, by the People, for the People
Fanatics of democracy would say China only has the Communist Party (one-party system), while America has the Democrats and Republicans (multi-party system). Hence, America is more democratic.
Be that as it may, it does not add value to the discussion on democracy and governance. And it is also naive to trumpet a society as a democracy if it has at least two opposing parties competing in elections.
To better appreciate why the Chinese have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, we must first penetrate it deeper.
According to the State Administration of Civil Service, about 90 per cent of government employees come from ordinary backgrounds.
Statistics disclosed by the Organisation Department of the Communist Party of China shows its party membership has swollen to more than 90 million in 2019. CPC has broad representation across the country including members of various classes.
China has also advanced extensive, multilevel and institutionalised development of consultative democracy, and has adopted a coordinated approach to promoting consultations carried out by political parties, people’s congresses, government departments, people’s organizations, communities, and social organizations.
The result is a government that works on the holistic interests of the Chinese people as opposed to its American counterpart serving the partial interest groups or elites, paving the way for the election of Trump, a Machiavellian who rode on the crest of populist wave.
Elites like Hillary Clinton, emboldened by their intellectual hubris coupled with little empathy, who called Trump’s backers “basket of deplorables” is a good case in point.
Truth be told, the Democrats and Republicans have often struggled to free themselves from political donors’ shackles. In his famous Presidential Farewell Speech in 1961, the then US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was prescient in warning Americans that “in the councils of government, [Americans] must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief economist Simon Johnson’s remarkably blunt article The Quiet Coup in 2009 highlighted how a dominant force in American politics was responsible for thrusting America and the world into the 2008 Financial Crisis: The Financial Oligarchs.
He explained that:
…elite business interests — financiers, in the case of the U.S. — played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.
Johnson has also indirectly tells us that the erstwhile centre of power (as it shifts towards Beijing) was not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. but on Wall Street.
In China, no conglomerates including Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group, China’s largest e-commerce platform, could wield influence over the Central Authorities’ policymaking decisions. But the former’s American counterparts like those in Wall Street have been able to lobby the White House officials.
Lobbying is a legitimate corruption in the States since it fulfils procedural justice as mentioned earlier. The business community wants to influence policy decisions in the making that would benefit them resulting in politicians not making decisions which are beneficial to the nation as a whole. Political decisions in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are, however, made unanimously by a council of political officers after rounds of brainstorming without any pressure from any lobby group.
The Chinese government, not the capitalists, guides the economy and has managed to sidestep the trap of excessive capital power America has fallen into thanks to the excessive reverence for neo-liberalism.
America’s exceptionalism is nothing more than a jingle if moneyocracy is justified.
The US President is, therefore, never the leader of the free world as he does not enjoy much freedom of speech which he oftens extols in the so-called Land of the Free, for fear his backers will reduce political funding.
We must END the ‘End of History’ if we want a better future for mankind.
And we must heed the advice of Fukuyama’s mentor, Samuel P. Huntington, who said:
“Expectations should not always be taken as reality; because you never know when you will be disappointed.”
We could see that the Chinese place a greater emphasis on substantial democracy than the procedural democracy practised in the United States. Good governance, guiding the Middle Kingdom’s four-decade long reform and opening up, has become an imperative of her great rejuvenation.
Good governance is the future.
Democracy is a flexbile living organism that ought to continuously mature.
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