China calls itself democratic and criticizes the US model after not being included in the forum

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As some 100 countries prepare to meet virtually for the Summit for Democracy hosted by US President Joe Biden, China is busy trying to convince the world that it too is a democracy – and that its version is superior to the U.S.

Beijing, which was not invited to the virtual meeting on Thursday and Friday, reacted with contempt and derision, denouncing the summit as an “exercise of hypocrisy” to promote US hegemony.

In addition, Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that China claims as part of its territory, was invited, as was Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist and former Hong Kong legislator, now in exile in London.

In response, China has stepped up propaganda efforts in an attempt to promote an alternative “democracy” model, changing the definition of the term to suit its own authoritarian one-party system.

“This is a preemptive strike against the Biden Democracy Summit,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, an expert on Chinese politics at the Baptist University of Hong Kong. “Now China feels it needs to be not only on the defensive but also on the offensive.”

Over the weekend, Beijing held its own International Forum on Democracy, a two-day virtual event that was joined by politicians and academics from more than 120 countries.

In his opening speech, Huang Kunming, the propaganda czar of the Communist Party of China, extolled China’s so-called “full process people’s democracy” – a concept put forward by Chinese leader Xi Jinping – describing it as a “true democracy that it works”.

Huang later expounded the theory, confusingly insisting that it “integrates process democracy with outcome democracy, procedural democracy with substantive democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy, and people’s democracy with the will of the state.”

In parallel to the event, the Chinese State Council on Saturday released a widely publicized white paper entitled “China: Democracy that Works”.

“There is no fixed model of democracy; it manifests in many ways. Assessing the myriads of political systems in the world against a single measure and examining diverse political structures in monochrome are, in and of themselves, undemocratic,” said the 13,000-word document.

By most international standards, China is the opposite of a democracy. The ruling Communist Party has held power for more than seven decades since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

There is no separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, freedom of association, expression and opinion, free and fair periodic elections by universal suffrage or independent media – which are the essential elements of democracy according to the United Nations.

And China sits directly at the base of most international rankings on political and personal freedoms, including the annual “freedom score” given by the Washington-based NGO Freedom House, based on 25 metrics of political rights and civil liberties.

Chinese activists calling for democracy are routinely silenced, harassed and imprisoned, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in prison in 2017 after spending nearly a quarter of his life behind bars.

Of course, none of this is mentioned in China’s latest propaganda offensive. Instead, the country is trying to muddy the waters on what constitutes a democracy, said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.

“This is a fight over the global discourse on democracy. They (Chinese officials) have gotten used to the idea that if you state something and repeat it over and over again, you can really go a long way,” he said.

Xi, China’s supreme leader, has repeatedly stressed the country’s need to “struggle for international discursive power.”

“If you are late, you will be beaten; if you are poor, you will have to go hungry; if he cannot speak, he will receive a reprimand,” Xi said in a speech in 2015, noting that “being reprimanded” is the only outstanding issue China needs to resolve.

And, in the eyes of the Communist Party, the perfect time to speak is now. Having managed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Beijing maintains this success as proof of the superiority of its political system.

China is also taking advantage of the divisions sown under former US President Donald Trump as evidence of the disappearance of Western political models.

On Sunday, China’s Foreign Ministry released a lengthy report attacking American democracy, listing the Capitol mutiny, Black Lives Matter protests and the country’s pandemic response as evidence of its deep-rooted failures, dysfunctions and chaos.

But China’s rush to proclaim itself a democracy may also be fueled by a growing sense of need.

Since Biden took office, the US has reversed its retreat into the global stage under Trump and has doubled building alliances with like-minded partners to counter China’s growing influence – a challenge characterized by Biden as part of a battle broader ideological link between democracies and autocracies.

While China’s model of self-declared democracy does not convince any democratic country — especially among the developed world — Yang, an expert at the University of Chicago, said the speech could find a more receptive audience in the global South.

China framed its “democracy” as the most effective in meeting people’s needs, highlighting the country’s rapid economic development.

“I think part of the emphasis on producing results can really be persuasive to people,” Yang said. “The percentage of people who are willing to sacrifice some elements of democracy for better economic well-being cannot be underestimated.”

The emphasis on performance also comes with inherent dangers, Yang cautioned. “When the economy is slowing, it risks looking like a very bad place. And when it significantly escalates into a crisis, it raises questions (relating to democratic legitimacy).”

But the Chinese Communist Party is also arguing that it is a “process-oriented democracy,” pointing to the country’s multilevel legislative system as evidence.

In theory, delegates to municipal and municipal-level legislatures are elected directly by residents, who in turn are in charge of choosing delegates for the level above, and so on.

At the top of the system is the National People’s Congress, a parliamentary body that meets annually to approve important decisions and policies taken by the party.

In practice, however, these grassroots “elections” are highly critical matters. And, under Xi, it has become virtually impossible for independent candidates – especially those who disagree with the party – to play a role in the process.

In October, 14 independent candidates tried to participate in Beijing’s local People’s Congress elections. They ended up being harassed, placed under house arrest, or forced to take a trip out of town, and none of them managed to participate.

“To put it simply, Chinese ‘democracy’ is under the dictatorship of the Communist Party,” said Cabestan of Hong Kong Baptist University. “So if you are obedient to the party, if you accept the party’s dictatorship, you can participate in political life. If not, you are excluded”.

In its newsletter, the Chinese government argues that “whether a country is democratic or not, it should be judged by its people, not dictated by a handful of outsiders.” But even within China, there are signs that many are unconvinced by the official narrative.

On Weibo, China’s heavily censored version of Twitter, a post in the party’s People’s Daily about the Foreign Ministry’s attack on American democracy was inundated with sarcastic comments before the censorship took effect.

“Who ever elected a representative to the People’s Congress? Who has already voted?” said one of the main comments. “I’m not even an ‘extra’ to the performance,” said another.

These remarks were later deleted. Of more than 2,700 comments, only a dozen were allowed to be aired – all critical of US democracy.

Another post by the state-run Xinhua news agency about China’s “people’s democracy throughout the process” completely deactivated its comment section.

One user shared the post, commenting: “(China is) so democratic it doesn’t need the comment section anymore.”

*This article has been translated. Read the original in English

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Reference: CNN Brasil

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