Third highest ranking Communist Party leader Li Zhanshu offers new insights on “democracy with Chinese characteristics.”
by Massimo Introvigne
Last month, I emphasized the importance of the first ever “Central conference on work related to People’s congresses,” organized on October 13–14 and used by Xi Jinping to promote a Chinese concept of “democracy,” which he sees as a model that may interest a number of countries in the world generally regarded as non-democratic. At that conference, Xi insisted that there is not a single concept of democracy but many, China’s is different from the West’s, and trying to impose a universal concept of democracy is a form of imperialism.
We have now an authorized commentary of Xi Jinping’s lecture at that conference in the shape of a speech of Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), at the closing session of the 31st meeting of the Standing Committee of the 13th NPC. Li is regarded as the third highest ranking CCP bureaucrat.
The CCP loves lists, which are easy to memorize for those compelled to study such speeches, and Li proposed six “yes” and five “nos.” The five negatives are especially interesting, as they show what parts of the notion of democracy prevailing elsewhere Chinese are supposed to “resolutely oppose, resist, and prevent”: “the so-called ‘constitutionalism,’ multi-party elections, the division of the three powers [executive, legislative, and judiciary], the bicameral system, and the independence of the judiciary.” One would believe that these are the typical features of a democracy, although perhaps a bicameral system is not strictly necessary—but certainly there is no democracy without multi-party elections and an independent judiciary.
Chinese “democracy” is different, as evidenced by Li’s six “yes.” First, “adhere to the Party’s overall leadership as the highest political principle, firmly uphold the authority of the Party Central Committee and centralized and unified leadership.” Second, “unswervingly take the road of the political development of Socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and reject the Western models of democracy. Third, believe and promote the idea that the Chinese system empowers the people and makes the people master of its own house.
Fourth, improve the quality of the National People’s Congress and its work. Fifth, acknowledge that the Communist Party leads the National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee. Sixth, strengthen the theoretical research and propaganda of “Socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics,” and “tell good stories about Chinese democracy.”
The sixth imperative is not unimportant. The CCP propaganda apparatus is called to internationally “tell good stories” and sell the Chinese system as “democracy.” It seems a difficult sales pitch, as not many would believe that a system governed by the Politburo of the Communist Party, to which multi-party elections and the separation of powers are anathema, may be called a democracy. But the CCP has always been persuaded that a continuously repeated lie ends up being accepted as truth.