On Democracy, the People Know the Best — Remarks by Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng at A Dialogue on Democracy
Beijing International Club, 2 December 2021
Good afternoon! I’m very glad to join you again in this dialogue.
Recently, democracy is being widely discussed around the world. This should have been a good thing. But a very few countries are using democracy as a cover: they twist its essence, and willfully set its standards. They even take democracy as a political tool for selfish gains, and build small blocs to create division and confrontation in the world. This obviously runs against the spirit of democracy.
Therefore, today’s dialogue on democracy is very necessary. Through our interaction, we hope to clear up confusion, promote right conceptions, and look for the right way of democracy. I wish to share with you a few of my thoughts.
The first question I’d like to answer is: Is China a democracy or not? Some in the West claim that there seems to be no democracy in China, and that the Communist Party of China is just authoritarian and autocratic. In their eyes, although China has created many miracles of long-term stability, rapid development and poverty reduction, and the government has the universal support of the Chinese people, yet China is still a country without democracy and without human rights.
This actually reveals their hostile mindsets and intentions, namely, democracy is just a tool to repress anyone who disagrees with them and to contain the development of other countries.
This year marks the 100th birthday of the CPC. For 100 years, China has never stopped its efforts to pursue and advance democracy. Many people have watched The Age of Awakening, a popular TV series. I was deeply impressed by one of the scenes—Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao and other CPC founders walking back and forth on a muddy path in the early 20th century, looking for ways to democracy and freedom.
Starting from that muddy path, the CPC led the Chinese people on a great journey of the century. In the early 1930s, the CPC established the congress of workers, peasants and soldiers in Ruijin, capital of the Chinese Soviet Republic. While in Yan’an, peasants, who could not read, would vote for their ideal candidates by casting beans as ballots. U.S. journalist Edgar Snow was deeply impressed by his visit to Yan’an. He said what he saw there was the best of human history, and a light of rejuvenation in the East.
After the founding of the People’s Republic, China’s democracy has stepped into a new stage, and made steady and historic progress. In particular, since the 18th CPC National Congress, the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core has deepened the knowledge on the laws of democracy, and proposed the important concept of “whole-process people’s democracy”. This is a major innovation on the people’s democratic system. Socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics is now in a new era.
Many of my colleagues and friends hope to see sequels to The Age of Awakening. I would ask them: Don’t you think the prosperous, dynamic, free and democratic China today is the best sequel? Our forefathers’ dream of democracy is now a reality, and the whole-process people’s democracy is the best answer to their life-long struggle.
China’s whole-process people’s democracy is not for the few or an interest group. It is for the majority and the whole Chinese people. All the 2.62 million deputies in the five levels of people’s congresses, from the National People’s Congress down to provinces, cities, counties, and townships, are elected by the people. The people in China participate extensively in state affairs, especially local-level governance, to exercise their constitutional rights. Among the deputies to the 13th National People’s Congress, frontline workers, farmers and people with special skills take up a much bigger share. This shows the broadness of the NPC deputies and the extensive political participation by the people.
China’s whole-process people’s democracy is not a show, or a formality. It truly makes the people happy, and improves their well-being. In the past decades, more than 800 million Chinese have been lifted out of extreme poverty, a miracle unseen anywhere in the world. China has also built the world’s largest social security system and healthcare system, covering more than 1.3 billion people.
Jobs are the most important part of people’s well-being. More than 10 million new jobs were created each year for 15 consecutive years, a number equivalent to the population of a mid-sized country. So far, 1.08 billion Chinese have been fully vaccinated against COVID. And community workers in the 600,000 communities across China are keeping up to speed everyone’s vaccination.
China’s whole-process people’s democracy is not the kind that wakes up at the time of voting and goes back to dormant afterwards. Instead, it ensures that the people have the full right to know, to express, and to supervise. It means that the people participate in every part of democracy. “From the people, to the people”— this is an important way of China’s democratic practices. All major law-making decisions in China are the result of a democratic process. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the public has been called on to comment on 187 draft laws. Around 1.1 million comments were collected, with more than 3 million suggestions. When drafting the 14th Five-Year Plan, the Chinese government also asked the public for advice. On the Internet alone, the government received more than one million proposals.
Both history and reality have fully proved that China’s model of democracy fits in well with its national conditions. It enjoys the support of the people. It is real, effective, and successful democracy. China is indeed a true democratic country. That muddy path in the early 20th century has become a broad, straight road leading the 1.4 billion Chinese people to greater democracy, freedom, prosperity and better lives.
China’s success in democracy highlights an important lesson: transplanted democracy does not work, and countries should not be lectured about how to build their own democracy. In other words, for democracy to succeed in a country, it must take deep roots in that country, and make its own people happy and satisfied.
We in China often say that “language dialects change every ten miles, and folk customs differ every 100 miles”. Even on the Chinese territory, there are many different features— the rich plains in the northeast and the dry yellow northwest, the wet south and the immense grasslands north. Different soils produce different crops and cultures. And that is also true with the diverse world with so many countries. As the saying goes that personality is shaped by the environment, democracy should also be moulded by the conditions on the ground. No two leaves in the world are completely the same. Likewise, a one-size-fits-all model of democracy for the whole world does not exist, and there is no democratic system that can claim to be perfect or superior to others.
If you look at China’s path to democracy in modern times, you will see that we suffered a lot and paid a heavy price by simply copying the models from other countries. If you look at the world, be it in Afghanistan, Libya or Iraq, democracy imposed through color revolutions all ended in catastrophe. And at the end of the day, it is the innocent people that bear the brunt.
Our world is going through a pandemic and changes unseen in a century. Humanity faces unprecedented risks and challenges. Now more than ever, the world needs to come together and respond collectively. A certain country is putting together the so-called democracy summit as self-styled leader of democracy. It divides countries into different levels of a hierarchy, labels them as democratic or undemocratic, and points fingers at other countries’ democratic systems. It claims it is doing this for democracy. But this is in fact the very opposite of democracy. It will do no good to global solidarity and cooperation or promote global development.
In essence, democracy needs to be in touch with the people. It needs to keep in mind what policies people want; what their needs are; and how to make their lives better. Democracy is not to be put on a pedestal. It is not about grandstanding. And it should not be out of touch with the general public. In today’s world of uncertainties, fighting COVID-19 remains a top priority. The coronavirus has claimed over 5.2 million lives worldwide. The U.S. alone lost over 800,000 lives to COVID. This is heart-wrenching. This tragedy must not continue.According to the WHO, more than 80 countries are still unable to vaccinate 40 percent of their adults by the end of this year. Many of them are African countries. What is worse, the new and formidable variant Omicron is now posing a severe threat to the African people. To help address these challenges, China has been providing assistance to people in Africa. At the recent Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, President Xi Jinping announced major steps in support of Africa, including another one billion doses of vaccines to African countries, 10 medical and health projects, and 1,500 medical personnel and public health experts.
In addition to COVID-19, we also face many other challenges including climate change, inflation, energy security, and refugees and migrants. The clock is ticking for all countries to work together to find a solution. Let us return to what democracy is really about, get in touch with the people, and do more to improve their lives.
With that, I conclude my remarks, which I hope would be useful and meaningful for your discussions. I wish this dialogue a full success. Thank you.