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China’s perspective: Democracy can’t taste the same across the world

China is a force to reckon with in the world’s economic space, with most narrations painting a cold war with the United States of America. Being a powerful player in world affairs has attracted more scrutiny into China as a state. Whilst its confrontations with other world powers centre on economic issues, critics have found an easy way to poke at China.

They say it is undemocratic; hence its system of governance borders on authoritarianism. However, China offers a different perspective. This discussion focuses on the central question, the actual meaning of ‘democracy’, and the finding is that an agreement still seems far away. Most political theorists have by now given up hope and have moved on to more promising areas of inquiry. Effectively, this paper suggests that democracies are varied, and in most instances, influenced by the culture and socio-economic factors of different environments.

Let’s go by the Merriam-Webster (1828) definition of democracy: ‘a democratic system of government is a form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodic free elections’. Based on this definition, very little suggests that China does not qualify as a democracy. China’s worry with the democracy narrative tends to be assessed using the ‘western template’, a complaint shared by many of Africa’s so-called undemocratic states.

Since 1978, China has experienced economic marketisation and a degree of political liberalization Lu Chunlong (2011). Ignoring this development, some commentators, out of narrow intentions, have tried to portray China’s relations with the West as a competition between democracy and authoritarianism, seeking to draw the line along with ideology and pin labels on countries. Lu (2011) further notes, “recent studies on political culture, while not comprehensive, have suggested the emergence of democratic values, thus presenting a picture of hope for the prospect of Chinese democracy”.

This demonstrates that China appreciates the principle of democracy. However, leaders in the Asian giant have argued that China’s socialist democracy is a whole-process, most representative democracy. According to documents linked to the Communist Party of China (CPC), the country’s democracy embodies the will of the people, fits the country’s realities and is endorsed by the people. China has consistently argued that it is undemocratic in itself to label China as “authoritarian” or “dictatorship” simply because China’s democracy takes a different form than that of the West.

Admittedly, China’s reforms, however, are evolving very rapidly. Her unique political development model is distinct from the traditional Soviet Union Socialist model and diverges from the Western liberal democratic style. Unger and Chan (1995) argue that the Chinese political model challenges Western literature’s classic liberal democratic theory and raises questions: Is democracy a standard value for all humankind? Does a non-liberal form of democracy exist?

These concerns also attract the most heated debates about Chinese democratic reform within China since the founding of the nation in 1949. In their view, Unger and Chan (1995) submit that this political discourse in China is concentrated on questions like, What is the relationship between democracy and social modernisation? Does western-style democracy also apply in China? Is there a Chinese model of democracy? Is democracy an opportunity or a challenge for China?

Studies continue to suggest the emergence of democratic values in China. One of such studies by Lu Chunlong (2004) based its conclusions on public opinion surveys and suggested that Chinese political culture is in transition. For example, Ogden (2002) suggests, “China has inklings of a democratic political culture in certain respects and not in others”. Ogden is optimistic about the prospect of Chinese democracy. Huntington (2002) concludes that Chinese political culture will move closer to the patterns characteristic of democratic countries as the economy grows.

In a more recent study, Shi (2012) also finds that higher education and income levels play a significant role in making people transcend their traditional culture. Various studies suggest that people with higher education and income tend to perceive their relationship with authority as reciprocal but are also more willing to enter into conflict with others to assert their interests – this is a characteristic of China today.

After presenting that well-educated and wealthy Chinese people are more likely to possess democratic values, Chu and Chang (2008) conclude: “socio-economic development is positively correlated with demand for democratic principles, suggesting that modernisation generally facilitates the growth in democratic-value orientation”. This theory emphasises the importance of the middle class as a friend of democracy. With a massive population of over 1.4 billion people, China certainly has one of the most significant middle-class demographics, an inherent ingredient for a democracy.

With China’s economic development, so the country’s middle class has grown significantly, both in absolute number and in percentage relative to the whole population (Ogden, 2002). This social class owns most of the economic and cultural capital; therefore, this discussion finds that China’s leaders will have to accustom their government system to the aspirations of this influential group. Moreover, Huntington (2002) finds that at a time when the Chinese government is more ready to talk about “socialist democracy”, “democracy” has thus become a legitimate and popular word, even though the meaning may differ from that applied to the word and the concept as used in the Western world. “Thus, when Chinese citizens express support for democracy, it may be that support is for a meaning different to that understood by a citizen of an established, advanced industrial democracy” (Huntington, 2002).

One of the documents belonging to the Communist Party of China (CPC) states thus: “the CPC was established with the mission to pursue happiness for the people. With the slogans of anti-dictatorship, anti-autocracy and anti-oppression, it enabled the people to become master of their own country and won the people’s hearts. As the governing party, it has remained faithful to its founding mission: people-centred and serving the people whole-heartedly. What China today is whole-process democracy.

According to law, the people have the right to an election, and they can be broadly involved in national governance. They exercise state power through the National People’s Congress and local people’s congresses at different levels.”

The key reason the CPC could defeat the Kuomintang (the Nationalists) during the last Civil War was a democracy (Lu Chunlong, 2004). According to literature, the founding fathers and leaders of the CPC stressed the importance of democracy, especially Chen Duxiu, who was one of the famous democratic movement—”the May 4th Movement of 1919″—in modern Chinese history. Chairman Mao Zedong was also a feverish advocator of Chinese democratic politics.

In his masterpiece “On New Democracy,” he systematically illustrated the CPC‘s guiding principle on Chinese development (Unger and Chan, 1995). The CPC, led by Mao, founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, which was a milestone in the history of Chinese democracy. Mao Zedong explicitly declared that only through democracy could a government survive from being overthrown, and democracy could also bring about the Chinese national goal of “great rejuvenation”. After 1949, the CPC made tremendous exploration into promoting democracy in China, which led to several outstanding achievements. Examples include: abolishing feudalistic hierarchy and privilege, equalising gender differences, and enabling poor workers and farmers to be involved in national administration (Lu Chunlong, 2004).

Numerous Chinese diplomats who have served in Botswana have remarked that China also has a unique political consultation system and affiliated institutions, similar to Ntlo ya Dikgosi in Botswana, which gives citizens the platform to exercise democracy. One of the diplomats argued that most issues and conflicts of interests are resolved and suggestions accepted in such consultation forums, which also makes the implementation of the policies easier, a process inherent with democracy.

China believes its economic prosperity is a result of positive political reform gravitating towards democratic ideals. China has become the world’s second-largest economy and biggest trading nation. According to official Chinese data, 16,000 companies are created in China every day, and over 120 foreign enterprises are rushing to China, one of the biggest consumer markets and the top investment destination in the world. In addition, 1.4 billion people have basic medical insurance and old-age pension insurance.

Green and low-carbon living has become a new fashion, Chinese media has reported. The Chinese are driving 50% of the world’s new-energy vehicles on the most extensive expressways in the world. Every year, 10% of its population, which means almost 150 million Chinese, have visited other countries to open their eyes and contentedly returned to China. One billion Chinese netizens get connected with the world for information and engagement at the click of a mouse. Recently China reported that COVID-19 had been put under control in China, with 1.1 billion people fully vaccinated. The leadership in China submits that all these demonstrate that the Constitution fully protects the rights and freedoms of the Chinese.

Undoubtedly, the reforms that started in 1978 allowed the Chinese economy to boom exceptionally rapidly, which created a miracle in modern world economic history. Huntington (2002) observes that during the 30 years from 1978 to 2008, Chinese GDP grew from 364.5billion yuan (approximately 50.1 billion USD at 2010 exchange rate) to 30.067 trillion yuan (about 4.295 trillion USD). Additionally, the average annual growth rate exceeded 9%, and the GDP per capita also increased from 381 yuan (about 54.3 USD) to 22,600 yuan (approx.3,228.57 USD). The nation’s comprehensive strength also leapt forward to third place in the world.

But many Western scholars believed that China’s reform and opening-up policy only achieved great success concerning economic modernisation, with no significant progress in political democratisation (Ogden, 2002). Some even went so far as to claim the reason for the successful Chinese economic modernisation was precisely because China did not have any accompanying democratic reforms. As a matter of fact, Chinese modernisation is an integrated, multi-level social change process, which includes enormous economic progress and tremendous political and cultural improvement (Lu Chunlong, 2004).

Similarly, Ogden (2002) observed that the political impetus to economic prosperity was more significant in China’s reform than in many Western countries. Mao Zedong, who deeply understood the Chinese social and historical traditions, clearly stated: “Politics is the commander, the soul, and the bloodline of all economic tasks.” If there had been no political reform, China’s modernisation would have never succeeded.

In conclusion, it would have been impossible to attain later achievement in economic structural change without this political reform. Some Western scholars use their democratic standards, such as a multi-party system, universal suffrage, and checks and balances, to evaluate Chinese political development in the reform era and conclude that Chinese reform is more economical than political. However, China argues that this is an unnecessary bias and misunderstanding.

Concurrent with the fundamental change of economic structure, most Asian scholars argue that the Chinese political system also experiences a profound reform. They conclude that the impact of the political system on economic development is much more powerful in China than that in Western countries. “Without political structural reform, there would be no systematic economic change. This is a basic experience gained during the Chinese reform era” (Lu Chunlong, 2002). Deng Xiaoping, the designer and leader of Chinese reform, deeply understood this point.

He articulated: “If we fail to do that [political reform], we shall be unable to preserve the gains we have made in the economic reform.” “Without political reform, economic reform cannot succeed … So in the final analysis, the success of all our other reforms depends on the success of the political reform.” Yanjie (2002) agrees with the observation when he writes, “As it turned out, the process of Chinese reform and opening-up is an integral and comprehensive process of social changes, including economic, political, and cultural dimensions in Chinese society”. China holds on to the notorious adage that democracy is not Coca-Cola, which tastes the same worldwide. The world will be lifeless and dull if there is only one single model and one single civilisation.

Reference

Alexis de Tocqueville. (1966). Democracy in America. New York: Harper and Row, esp. Vol. I.

Bian Yanjie. (2002). “Chinese Social Stratification and Social Mobility”, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 28, pp. 91-116

Robert W. Jackman and Ross A. Miller. (1996) “A Renaissance of Political Culture?” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 632-659.

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba. (1963). The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

James L. Gibson, Raymond M. Duch, and Kent L. Tedin. (1992). “Democratic Values and the Transformation of the Soviet Union”, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 54, No. 2, pp. 329-371.

Jonathan Unger and Anita Chan. (1995). “China, Corporatism, and the East Asian Model”, The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, Vol. 33, pp. 29-53.

Martin King Whyte. (1995). “The Changing Role of Workers”, in Merle Goldman and Roderick MacFarquhar (eds.), The Paradox of China’s Post-Mao Reforms, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, pp. 173-196.

Samuel P. Huntington. (2002). “Democracy’s Third Wave”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 2, 1992, pp. 12-35;

Suzanne Ogden. (2002). Inklings of Democracy in China, Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.

Robert Putnam. (1993). Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lee Ching Kwan. (2000). “Pathways of Labor Insurgency”, in Elizabeth J. Perry and Mark Selden (eds.), Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance, London, Routledge, pp. 41-61.

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Travel ban unfair and unjustified – Masisi

7th December 2021
President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi

For the past two years, the world has been at combat with various COVID-19 variants. A new variant of concern which is considered to have a combination of the greatest hits (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta) has sent alarm bells around the world.

Botswana’s COVID-19 genomic surveillance, which actively monitors COVID-19 variants in Botswana, picked four samples that were concerning and discovered a completely new variant. In accordance with international obligations, as a responsible member state under the International Health Regulations of 2005, Botswana submitted the suspected new variant for the entire global scientific community to respond to this early finding. Shortly after, the Republic of South Africa, also submitted a similar concerning variant.

The new variant, ‘Omicron’ is named after the 15th letter of the Greek Alphabet to avoid public confusion and stigma.
The news spread like wild fire which resulted in European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America imposing travel bans on Botswana and other sister SADC nations, resulting in drawing a wedge between nations.

In his address on the occasion of an update on Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has shunned the response by some countries to Botswana’s detection of the Omicron variant stating that it is unfortunate as it appears to have caused unnecessary panic amongst the public across the world. He considers it defeating the spirit of multilateral cooperation in dealing with this global pandemic.

“The decision to ban our citizens from travelling to certain countries was hastily made and is not only unfair but is also unjustified while remain confident that reason and logic will prevail, the harshness of the decision has the effect of our shaking our belief in the sincerity of declared friendship and commitment of equality and economic prosperity for us,” he said.

President Masisi has appealed to the nations that have imposed travel restrictions on Botswana to reflect and review their travel restrictions stance against the Southern African region.

African leaders and heads of state are in agreement on a matter. Some stating that the travel bans are ‘uncalled for, afro phobic, unscientific, strict, unfair and unjustified’. They have come out to bash the unilateral travel bans and request immediate upliftment of the restrictions imposed on SADC member states by European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America.

While Batswana are banned from international travel, locally as at 26th November 2021, a total of 195 068 COVID19 cases and 2 418 deaths had been reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We have been steadily witnessing a decrease in the number of new cases and deaths in the last three months. We are currently reporting an average of less 10 infections per 100 000 people compared to 648 cases per 100 000 people at the peak of the third wave. We have also observed a gradual decline in hospitalizations across the country with an average of less than 10 patients at a time at Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital (SKMTH) and our other health facilities countrywide,” pointed out President Masisi.

Masisi encouraged Batswana not to despair as to date, all the nations’ key indicators remain stable. “This is comforting although it still does not warrant any complacency on our part in terms of behaviour and other attitudinal patterns towards this dreadful disease. We are actively monitoring the evolving situation in view new variant of concern,’’ he sternly advised.

Government through the different Ministries leading the different sectors, has been working tirelessly to prepare for potential outbreaks and a fourth (4th) wave. This will be achieved through; installing oxygen generating plants and increasing skilled human capacity.

With regards to the vaccination programme; as of 29th November 2021, an estimated One Million and Fifty Three Thousand Three Hundred and Sixty One (1 053 361) people translating to 75.7% of the target Batswana citizens and residents over the age of 18 years have received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccines. A total of Nine Hundred and Fifty Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy Three (950 973) people translating to 68.4% have been fully vaccinated. This number exceeds the 64% target Botswana has set to achieve by end of December 2021.

Masisi enthusiastically revealed that; “We are one of the three countries in Africa that have achieved the World Health Organisation target of vaccinating at least 40% of the entire population by December 2021. We are committed to ensure that all is done to reduce the transmission of the virus in the country.

More vaccines are being procured to ensure availability for those who have not yet received any dose. Government is also considering booster doses for those who may be identified as qualifying for them.”

President Masisi urged Batswana to continue observing the COVID-19 health protocols of social distancing, washing hands or sanitizing and wearing masks and avoid unnecessary travelling.

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China pledges a billion vaccines to Africa

7th December 2021

As COVID-19 pandemic continues to shake the world, China has promised to donate a billion coronavirus vaccines, advance billions of dollars for African trade and infrastructure, and write off interest-free loans to African countries to help the continent recover from the coronavirus pandemic. All these promises emerged at the Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Senegal at the end of November 2021.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China will provide one billion doses of vaccines to Africa when delivering keynote speech at the Eighth Ministerial FOCAC via video link on 29th November. Of those, 600 million would be via donations and the rest would be produced jointly by African countries and Chinese companies. In addition, China would send medical teams to help the continent deal with the pandemic.

President Xi also announced nine programmes that China will work closely with African countries in the next three years. He mentioned the medical and health program, the poverty reduction and agricultural development program, the trade promotion program, the investment promotion program, the digital innovation program, the green development program, the capacity building program, the cultural and people-to-people exchange program, the peace and security program. President Xi hailed China-Africa relations as a shining example for building a new type of international relations.

Furthermore, Xi said Beijing would pump US$10 billion into African financial institutions for onward lending to small and medium enterprises. He promised to extend another US$10 billion of its International Monetary Fund allocation of special drawing rights, which would help stabilise foreign exchange reserves. In addition, China will write-off interest-free loans due this year, to help the economies that had been ravaged by the pandemic. Last year, China also promised to write off interest-free loans due at the end of 2020.

Beijing pledged US$60 billion to finance Africa’s infrastructure at the forum in Johannesburg in 2015, and a similar amount when the gathering was held in the Chinese capital in 2018. But in the past few years, Chinese lenders, including the policy banks – Exim Bank of China and China Development Bank – have become more cautious and are now demanding bankable feasibility studies amid debt distress in the continent.

Besides seeking more money for projects, Xi said China would encourage more imports of African agricultural products, and increase the range of zero-tariff goods, aiming for US$300 billion of total imports from Africa in the next three years.

China would also advance US$10 billion of trade financing to support African exports into China. He said the country would also advance another US$10 billion to promote agriculture in Africa, send 500 experts and establish China-Africa joint agro-technology centres and demonstration villages. African countries are pushing to grow exports of agricultural products into China. At the moment, Beijing maintains an enormous trade surplus over the continent. African imports from China include machinery, electronics, construction equipment, textiles and footwear.

Meanwhile, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi summarized FOCAC achievements when meeting with journalists ahead the 8th FOCAC Ministerial Conference. Wang said that the FOCAC is a crucial platform for collective dialogue between China and Africa and an effective mechanism for practical cooperation.

He said since the inception of the FOCAC 21 years ago, Chinese enterprises have built over 10,000 kilometers of railways, nearly 100,000 kilometers of roads, nearly 1,000 bridges, nearly 100 ports, and over 80 large-scale power facilities in Africa.

In addition, they have assisted Africa in building over 130 medical facilities, 45 gymnasiums and more than 170 schools, and training over 160,000 professionals in various fields. Chinese medical teams have provided medical service to an accumulated number of 230 million, and China’s network service has covered around 700 million user terminals.

Yi said that the Eighth FOCAC Ministerial Conference was a great success. According to Yi, the success of the conference confirmed the strong will of China and Africa to work together to overcome difficulties and seek common development, and showed the huge potential and bright prospects of China-Africa cooperation.

Wang summarized the most important consensus reached at the conference as following: 1) both sides will promote the spirit of China-Africa friendship and cooperation; 2) China and Africa will work together to defeat the pandemic; 3) both sides will work to enrich China-Africa cooperation in the new era; 4) the two sides will work together to practice true multilateralism; 5) China and Africa will jointly build a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era.

FOCAC, is one of the developments that came as a major shift in the dynamics of the China-Africa relationships came about in the 1980s when China embarked upon its “Opening up and Reform Policy” –a wide-ranging policy that gave birth to the new China. Economic and geo-strategic interests rather than the desire to export a specific political philosophy drive China’s current relationship with Africa.

For Africa though, the key problem is that our economies are weak in value creation. 
As argued by one economist, what workers and factories produce is produced more efficiently, with better quality and at lower cost, by other economies. “In such circumstances, making money is easier through rent than through value creation.

African governments should be capable of guiding their private sector towards value creation, a key factor for achieving a sustainable competitive edge in the global market. Furthermore, partnerships that Africa forges should be targeted to enhance such an environment”. The question remains as to whether China’s intervention in Africa will help address this challenge.

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COVID-19 has pushed cost of living up – report

7th December 2021

A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) has given its outlook for the rise and fall of living costs around the world.

The report is based on current and past trends impacting the cost of living, including currency swings, local inflation and commodity shocks. In addition, it compares more than 400 individual prices across over 200 products and services in 173 cities.

The Worldwide Cost of Living (WCOL) rankings continue to be sensitive to shifts brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which have pushed up the cost of living across the world’s major cities. Although most economies are now recovering as covid-19 vaccines are rolled out, the world’s major cities still experience frequent surges in cases, prompting renewed social restrictions. In many cities this has disrupted the supply of goods, leading to shortages and higher prices.

The report highlights that “the inflation rate of the prices tracked in the EIU’s WCOL across cities is the fastest recorded over the past five years. It has accelerated beyond the pre-pandemic rate, rising by 3.5% year on year in local-currency terms in 2021, compared with an increase of just 1.9% in 2020 and 2.8% in 2019.”

However; supply-chain problems, as well as exchange-rate shifts and changing consumer demand, have led to rising prices for commodities and other goods. The most rapid increases in the WCOL index were for transport, with the price of a litre of petrol up by 21% on average.

Tel Aviv, a city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast tops the WCOL rankings for the first time ever, making it the most expensive city in the world to live in. The Israeli city climbed from fifth place last year, pushing Paris down to joint second place with Singapore. Tel Aviv’s rise mainly reflects its soaring currency and price increases for around one-tenth of goods in the city, led by groceries and transport, in local-currency terms. Property prices (not included in the index calculation), have also risen, especially in residential areas.

The cheapest cities are mainly in the Middle East and Africa, or in the poorer parts of Asia. Damascus has easily retained its place as the cheapest city in the world to live in. It was ranked the lowest in seven of the ten pricing categories, and was among the lowest in the remaining three. While prices elsewhere have generally firmed up, in Damascus they have fallen as Syria’s war-torn economy has struggled. Tripoli, which also faces political and economic challenges, is ranked second from the bottom in our rankings, and is particularly cheap for food, clothing and transport.

“Over the coming year, we expect to see the cost of living rise further in many cities. Inflationary expectations are also likely to feed into wage rises, further fuelling price rises. However, as central banks cautiously raise interest rates to stem inflation, price increases should moderate from this year’s level. We forecast that global consumer price inflation will average 4.3% in 2022, down from 5.1% in 2021 but still substantially higher than in recent years. If supply-chain disruptions die down and lockdowns ease as expected, then the situation should improve towards the end of 2022, stabilising the cost of living in most major cities.”

“The survey has been designed to enable human resources and finance managers to calculate cost-of-living allowances and build compensation packages for expatriates and business travellers. It can also be used by consumer-goods firms and other companies to map pricing trends and determine optimum prices for their products across cities. In addition, the data can be used to understand the relative expense of a city to formulate policy guidelines,” highlights the report.

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