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Collective decision-making eclipses rowdy democracy

11:34, March 04, 2010

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Li Hong

Averting Western-style competitive democracy, China is increasingly building up a political institution of its own, which is embracing collaborative partnership, majority rule and,most pivotally, collective decision-making. So far, the system is delivering quite well.

The quenching of the developed countries'growth by the bout of the Great Recession has driven more Western thinkers and political analysts to look eastwards at China. Some have coined the phrase "Beijing consensus" or "China model", and more are studying the phenomenon of the country's political skeleton versus its monumental rise.

The way the decision-makers in Beijing chewed the possibly decimating impact of the global financial crisis and swiftly meted out a massive stimulus plan in late 2008, raised the eyebrows of many. The funds were rushed to high-speed railways, inter-province expressways and tens of thousands of infrastructure projects right away, without hitting the walls of parliamentary obstruction.

It has worked out wonders: the country's economy expanded by 8.8 percent last year. It outgrew Germany as the top exporter and the United States as the largest auto consumer in 2009.And, even before some Western economic gurus warned it of bubbling asset prices, China's central bank had started to fine-tune it by twice raising the reserve requirement ratio of banks, aimed at reining in credit and preventing inflationary bubbles.

Are Chinese getting smarter these days? Not exactly! It has nurtured a system that is tested and proved to be fairly functioning and efficient. The result is not as rowdy and contesting -- even predatory -- as we have seen in some Western democracies. The way one political party tries to sit at the throat of another by obstructing and killing every legislative move proposed by the politicians in power regardless of its merits, is just outrageous, if not preposterous.

Take the United States for an instance. More than 16 months has passed since the eruption of the crisis, the country hasn't come out with a repair plan to fix the holes of its financial regulation, because legislative lines submitted by the Obama administration to scrutinize credit default swaps and other dubious financial instruments, and protect individual consumers, are being held back by partisan lawmakers and bank lobbyists.

In China, the political instrument of collective decision making has taken root and is being instituted. The revered late leader Deng Xiaoping had worked hard to dismantle life tenure for all officials, effectively putting an end to the eventuality of a life-long totalitarian rule in the country. Deng also ventured a maximum two-term or 10-year tenure for the top leaders, setting an exemplary precedent himself by retiring from the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission in late 1989. In a formal letter to the central government and the people, Deng said the move "will be in the interest of the country".Sure it is.

Deng also spearheaded in experimenting and instituting a regime of collective decision making, as the approach often shuts door on individual manipulation and bungled governance, which China tested bitterly before 1977. And, collective decisions can only be made on the basis that the persons in top positions, with the interests of 1.3 billion at heart, work collegially as partners, who respect one another's abilities and potential contributions to a common cause. Recognizing each partner's strengths and expertise lays the ground work for a genuinely shared leadership.

China's current central authority, headed by President Hu Jintao, is emblematic of such a shared leadership. It has performed highly efficiently, weathered all kinds of crises well since late 2002 when the leadership came into power, and won applaud from the people.

Now, in early March, more than 5,000 deputies and representatives of the people have converged in Beijing, deliberating and debating future policies concerning the welfare of the country. In the West, this would be called full-fledge parliamentary sessions. I would define it as an annual gathering of constituency deputies who air opinions on a host of state affairs. It also serves as a precious platform for the leadership to listen to the people, and solicit suggestions on its job.

In addition to the annual scrutiny of people's deputies, China's policy making is also supervised and advocated by a mass of Internet commentators. Entering 1990s, the evolution of the Internet has provided another weapon for Chinese to voice their opinions. As I am told, lots of complaints and suggestions have been sent to the table of national decision-making. It is safe to say that the decision-making is becoming more collective today.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.


Gavin Jon MowatGavin Jon Mowat

Gavin Jon Mowat, editor and columnist for People's Daily Online.

As a graduate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, Gavin came to Beijing 2 years ago to study Chinese.

Enjoying the culture and traditions of the orient so much, Gavin has since left his home in Scotland and is now living and working in China.

Gavin uses his background in writing to share his experiences of China with you at People's Daily Online.

Li HongmeiLi Hongmei

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.