Exploring the Essence of Democracy to Build a Better Future
Article by Ambassador Liu Yantao in Cyprus Mail
29 August 2021
“Democracy”, a concept that runs through ancient and modern history, has presented varying connotations and denotations with the change of national conditions over the times. To better understand democracy, we must first truly grasp the essence of democracy and understand its origin and core pursuits. The term “democracy” originated from the Athenian democratic politics in the classical Greek civilization, and its original meaning was “rule of the people”. Since antiquity, it has become an important institutional means to bridge the differences between the aristocratic oligarchy and the political demands of the broad masses of citizens, thus creating the origin of western democratic political civilization. The world today is marked with chaos induced by social division, political polarization, and democratic regression. Under such circumstances, people all over the world are exploring the essence of “democracy,” in order to address practical problems, alleviate social conflict and create better conditions for people, through specific forms of democracy that are appropriate and effective.
As ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius said, “it’s only natural for things to be different.” There are no identical democratic political systems in the world, nor is there a one-size-fits-all model for all countries. Then, what principles shall we pursue in developing and improving democracy?
1. Accommodating to the essence of democracy
The essence of democracy is, first of all, its people-oriented nature, meaning it is people-centered, rather than representing a specific group. Democracy should aim to alleviate the conflicts among various classes, rather than amplify or even create them. In the practice of democracy in China, the Communist Party of China (CPC), as the ruling party, has no special interests of its own. It has never represented any specific interest group, power group, or privileged class, but promotes the requirements for the development of China’s advanced productive forces, the orientation of the development of China’s advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China. Therefore, the CPC can work together with all democratic parties to govern the country through political consultations. In his speech at the Ceremony Marking the Centenary of the CPC, President Xi Jinping said, “The CPC has in the people its roots, its lifeblood, and its source of strength. The CPC has always represented the fundamental interests of all Chinese people; it stands with them through thick and thin and shares a common fate with them.” This not only reveals the essential features of socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics, but also explains the key political code behind China’s success in achieving rapid development, political stability, and social harmony.
The essence of democracy is also specific, that is, democracy is not formalism. It should be conducive to creating a better life for the people, ensuring good governance, and solving practical problems in a country’s political, economic and social development. In the practice of democracy in China, the CPC has creatively adopted consultative democracy, adheres to whole-process democracy with wide participation, so that the wishes and needs of the majority can be achieved and satisfied, and the reasonable wishes and needs of the minority can be fully expressed and accommodated. The practice of democracy is not limited to elections held every few years. It is also reflected in the decision-making on major issues in a country’s political, economic and social life and in people’s daily lives, which ensure that the people are the true masters of their own country with their participation and monitoring of matters affecting their lives. Taking the formulation process of the “14th Five-Year Plan” and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035 adopted in March 2021 as an example, the Chinese government collected more than 1.018 million opinions and suggestions online from all social sectors, and received thousands of proposals and suggestions via hundreds of symposiums and hearings held with local authorities, experts in various fields, democratic parties and personages without party affiliations, based on which 55 modifications were made to the draft plans. Harvard Kennedy School’s polls on China for 13 consecutive years show that the Chinese people’s satisfaction with the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China has always remained above 90%. This is the greatest affirmation of Chinese democracy.
2. Accommodating to people’s fundamental needs
In ancient Greece, people believed that “Democratia” was part of their “good living” (Eu zin). Democracy is closely related to people’s lives and is an important way to build a better life. The modernization of the democratic political system should go hand in hand with the development of the country to achieve the coordinated progress in material, political, cultural-ethical, social, and ecological development, and meet the needs of the people for a happy life in all aspects. In practising democracy in China, the CPC aims to create conditions for a happy life for the people under the Five-Sphere Integrated Plan for coordinated progress in the economic, political, cultural, social and ecological fields, which is the Chinese path to modernization. Such a path supports and promotes the development of democracy in China, effectively guarantees the people’s rights to survival and development and other democratic rights, and ultimately allows prosperity for all the people through the sharing of the benefits of modernization. This is in sharp contrast to the chaos in some countries where “the vast majority serves the minority” or where “the governments are of, by and for the one percent of the people”.
Economic development drives material progress. To ensure a good and happy life for the people, a country must first “make the cake bigger”, by driving productivity and technological development to create more material wealth and opportunities. Political development aims to promote and improve the political ecosystem, to ensure economic development and social stability, so that the people can become the masters of their own country, protected by the rule of law, which sets restraints on interest groups, power groups, elite politics and capital. Cultural development focuses on cultural and ethical progress, which enables a better and deeper understanding of democracy, opens people’s minds, sets ethical standards, tackles ignorance, and leads to spiritual satisfaction and a better life. Social development aims to promote social progress, focusing on improving living standards of all social sectors, building a harmonious society, preventing social conflicts, narrowing gaps between the rich and the poor, and eliminating the causes of chaos, disorder, discrimination and violence. Ecological development aims to promote ecological progress in order to achieve the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature, and effectively protect the environment which is to the benefit of everyone. If any democratic system runs against the above five principles, such a democratic model is at least crippled, and can never set an example for others.
3. Accommodating to the basic national conditions
From the origin of democracy in ancient Greece to the Renaissance, and from the Enlightenment to the wave of modern democratization after World War II, history has repeatedly illustrated one truth: in designing, developing or improving the political system of a country, it is critical to base this on its specific national conditions, including cultural traditions, the stage of economic and social development, national mentality and values, in order to choose a democratic political path that suits it the best. In modern history, China experimented with bourgeois democracy, a constitutional monarchy or a bourgeois republic, but all these failed at protecting China from aggression by Western imperialist powers, or saved it from poverty and backwardness, which pushed China to the brink of national subjugation and extinction. At that critical moment, history and the people chose the CPC. Under the guidance of Marxism, the CPC carried out continuous exploration and practice of socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics, and established a political system in which the CPC is the ruling party with broad participation of democratic parties in the administration of state affairs, and the people being the masters of the country. In this way, it has promoted the development of democracy and the prosperity of the country. It can be said that when designing, developing and improving its own form of democracy, China always focused on absorbing the experience of western political systems under the guidance of the Marxist concept of democracy, adhered to its specific national conditions, and developed a democratic path that is based on the leadership of the CPC, the people as the masters of the country and the rule of law. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, especially since the reform and opening up, China’s overall national strength and people’s living standards have substantially improved, and the democratic rights of the people are fully protected by material, social and legal conditions. This fully proves the feasibility and superiority of such a path and institutional framework. The development of democracy in China has offered a “Chinese solution” for the global democratic political culture.
In today’s world, if democracy is truly deemed an axiom, a system of beliefs and values, it should be adapted to the development trends of the times to upholding real multilateralism and promoting the democratization of international relations. The biggest enemies of multilateralism and the democratization of international relations are hegemonism and unilateralism. The willful establishment of military alliances, withdrawal from international organizations and agreements, threatening others from a position of strength, use of group interests to force the subjugation of weaker countries, the export of ideology globally, as well as the imposing of sanctions against countries with different philosophies, run against the democratization of international relations, and is a true reflection of the perpetrators’ undemocratic system. China has always adhered to the democratization of international relations, firmly practised true multilateralism, effectively safeguarded the international system with the United Nations as its core and the international order based on international law, promoted the common values of humanity which are peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom, and driven the building of a community with a shared future for mankind. China launched the Belt and Road Initiative and has so far signed cooperation agreements with 140 countries and 31 international organizations, which reflects the values of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits, and conforms with the wishes of most countries in the world.
President Xi Jinping once said, “Socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics is something new and good.” Regardless of the form of democracy, it should ultimately come down to the fundamental pursuit of a happy life for the people. With COVID-19 pandemic still raging on a global scale, the people’s lives and health are under great threat and many countries have encountered difficulties in governance and development. We should abandon ideological prejudice, communicate and learn from each other’s advantages and merits, and jointly pursue high-quality democracy that can bring tangible benefits to the people, promote the common values of humanity, and build a community with a shared future for mankind.