China should follow own course in political reform

14:15, April 02, 2011      

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The ideas behind China's rapid rise, which are very different from the mainstream political views of the Western countries, can enlighten us in the process of making innovations in democracy. The underlying concept of the success of China's reform and opening up is "Seeking the Truth from Facts" and its core content is to not to believe in any dogma, but determine tangible merits through inspecting fact.

As a "civilization-type state," China has completely different cultural traditions from Western countries. This is the starting point for us to promote political reform. The most important features of the Western tradition are a series of customs, habits and institutions based on individualism, whereas Chinese customs, habits and institutions are more based on families and the relationship derived from families.

Given the differences in cultural traditions, the right way of constructing democracy should be combining our own cultural tradition to launch systemic innovation while avoiding disadvantages, rather than transforming our culture to adapt to Western culture and a political system under the influence of Western culture.

An important lesson China has learned from the Reform and Opening Up is that the quality of a political system should be judged by its contents and outcomes. Deng Xiaoping brought forward three criteria to define socialism during his visit to southern China in 1992. The first criterion is whether it can promote the growth of the socialist productive forces; the second is whether it can increase the overall strength of the socialist state and the third is whether it can improve people's living standards.

We can draw on the three criteria when promoting our democratic construction. Deng determined the correctness of a socialist policy based on its outcome rather than its form, which greatly encouraged the introduction of creative and seemingly adventurous policies.

It is important for the Chinese government to follow three principles based on its experience from the Reform and Opening Up when exploring new ways to build democracy suitable for its actual conditions.

First, it should take the road of gradual reforms. There is no such thing as a perfect plan. The central government should take into consideration the actual conditions of the country, proceed step by step, conduct experiments and encourage the people to make innovations. It is like groping forward by feeling for stones to cross a river.

As long as we do not stop moving, we will finally find the stones and cross the river, meaning that we will definitely form a relatively sound new democratic system in the end. Like economic reforms, China does not have a road map, but rather a compass. Under the established general directions and strategies, China should encourage each region to carry out bold explorations and experiments so as to gradually find a way to democracy that is in line with both China’s contexts and the conditions of its people.

The second is domestic demand. The reforms should start by meeting China's effective demand and only the reforms driven by effective domestic demand can be relatively stable. Effective domestic demand means the actual domestic demand based on the ideas, culture and conditions of the people in a country, which is the greatest inherent driving force. Presently, China's greatest domestic demand is the development of an anti-corruption system, an intra-Party democratic system, a service-oriented government and a society under the rule of law.

The third is livelihood. This means that China's key task is to improve the livelihood and the development of democracy should pragmatically focus on enhancing the public standard of living in both level and scope, enabling the government to provide the common people with better services and making the people lead safer, more free and more well-off and dignified lives.

A key reason behind the failures of democratic experiments in many developing countries lies in that the countries advanced democracy by simply copying Western-style democracy, resulting in the idleness of the political machine, endless domestic friction and worse instead of better lives for the common people. Naturally, such democratic experiments cannot go far.

China can explore a new type of democratic system that is derived from Chinese culture and absorbs strong points from other democratic systems, which will subsequently overtake Western democratic system in terms of both quality and effectiveness. This will also be an important opportunity for China to make contributions to mankind. As "a civilization-type state," China should never decline to assume such responsibility.

The author Wei-wei Zhang is a professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations (GSD) and visiting researcher at Chunqiu Comprehensive Research Institute.

By People's Daily Online

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