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Op-Ed: Chaos in the West shows that democracy comes in more than one flavor

By Curtis Stone, Chengliang Wu (People's Daily Online)    17:42, March 01, 2019


A popular narrative in the West is that the world would be a much better place if all countries just look and act more like the Western world. Indeed, the West has enjoyed great wealth and growth over the years. But growing instability in the Western world has also raised doubts about the Western-style of democratic governance.

In fact, there is a tendency to put Western-style democracy on a pedestal; but by doing so, we overlook its faults and even potential dangers. From the never-ending gridlock in Washington, to chaos in the House of Commons of United Kingdom over the Brexit mess, to people rioting on the streets of Paris, more and more people are calling into question the effectiveness of Western-style democracy.

Brexit, for some at least, encapsulates the perils and pitfalls of this style of democracy. In June 2016, the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union and, for now at least, the UK will leave the EU by March 29 this year, with or without a plan in place. The irrational jump into the unknown and the chaos that followed has created a troubling situation for the country, as well as other parts of the world, raising serious questions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of UK-style democracy.

Whether to leave or stay in the EU is a complicated issue that requires careful study and rational decisions from knowledgeable, well-informed people. It is irresponsible to just drag people off the streets for a vote on a major policy issue like Brexit. For example, days after the UK voted to leave the EU, a commentary on TIME’s website wrote that the referendum was not a triumph of democracy, but an ugly populist fiasco.

Thus, there is good reason why more and more people feel like Western-style democracy has become a big joke. In the UK, the people voted to “take back control” of their country—but without a plan. In the United States, politics has become a soap opera and the system is pitting Americans against Americans, splitting the country further apart. In fact, the US government has become so divided and dysfunctional that it recently broke the record for the longest shutdown in US history, which forced many government employees to turn to food banks to feed their families.

Yet, a very different story is unfolding in Asia. During the more than month-long government shutdown in the United States, China made history, too—by landing the Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the far side of the moon. As a US senator pointed out during the shutdown, China has quadrupled its GDP since 2001, but the United States cannot even keep the government up and running. He called the situation in the United States “ludicrous.”

Clearly, Western-style democracy is not “the end of history,” as some have predicted and hoped for. This is not to say that the Western system is a failure or that China’s system is superior to Western-style democracy, but it is fair to say that China’s own system is a good fit for the country and it achieves the best results for the Chinese people.

For example, China has built the largest, most advanced high-speed train network in the world. It is the envy for many in the world, even for many Americans, including former President Barack Obama, who, nearly a decade ago, unveiled a plan for a national network of high-speed passenger rail lines that was envisioned to transform travel in America. The plan, like many others, turned out to be an American Dream that never came true. Just recently in California, for example, the state’s new governor killed the high-speed rail program that would link Los Angeles to San Francisco—a project beloved by the just-retired four-term Governor Jerry Brown.

And then there is US President Donald Trump’s ambitious plan to “Rebuild America,” which he has been unable to deliver. Stuck in an endless battle with Democrats over funding for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency to fulfill his pledge to construct a wall along the US-Mexico border. His decision reflects a difference between the two countries’ models. Whereas the Chinese model is people-centered, the American model is vote-centered. With regard to the “security and humanitarian crisis” on the country’s southern border, the people are asking, “where is the crisis?” And herein lies the dilemma: Decisions, like Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency, are essentially political stunts for votes. The Western model reduces people to a source of votes, essentially turning democracy into a game of likes.

This kind of decision-making is in stark contrast to the decision-making process in China, which makes annual, five-year, and long-term plans to guide the country forward and conducts extensive consultations to reach a broad consensus on major issues. A clear advantage of the Chinese system is that it is constantly exploring ways to adapt to the changing times, including large-scale reform of Party and government institutions to adapt to internal and external changes.

Perhaps there was a time when one could argue that the Western model produced the best results, but that is no longer the case. What we are seeing now is that it is increasingly difficult for Western countries to reach a consensus on major issues and to form a strategic plan. Western-style of democracy has become too rigid and Western democratic institutions are in a state of degradation, making it next to impossible to carry out any substantial reform. This can be seen in the fact that democracy in the Western world has increasingly become a fight for money and a game of manipulating people for votes.

In China’s socialist democracy, there is a strong and stable political force that represents the interests of the great majority of the Chinese people. The Chinese government takes a people-centered approach to politics and good governance ensures that results can be delivered. It should be no wonder, then, that the Western model is barreling toward a cliff, while China is making great progress in various aspects, including the nation’s ambitious plan to eradicate poverty by 2020. In a world of turmoil, there is reason for China and the Chinese people to be confident in its path.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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