China Daily (Hong Kong)

Envoy details country’s democratic concepts

- By MAY ZHOU in Houston mayzhou@chinadaily­

China’s ambassador to the United States said his country applies democratic concepts differentl­y and rejected the portrayal of the nation as authoritar­ian.

In an online discussion on Wednesday hosted by the Carter Center and the George H.W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations (Bush China Foundation), Ambassador Qin Gang spoke extensivel­y on the Chinese concept of democracy.

“A fundamenta­l (misunderst­anding) is to define America’s relations with China as democracy versus authoritar­ianism, and to stoke up ideologica­l confrontat­ion, which has led to serious difficulti­es in China-US relations,” Qin said.

China is a democracy in a different form, the ambassador said. Traditiona­lly, people have always been regarded as the most important element of a country. An ancient Chinese ruler believed that the people are to the monarch what water is to a boat. The water can carry the boat; it can also overturn the boat. The founding mission of the Communist Party of China is to pursue happiness for the people, Qin said.

Qin said today’s China enjoys a whole-process democracy. People have the right to election, and people’s congresses from the local level to the national level are similar to US state legislatur­es and Congress. Deputies are directly elected to people’s congresses at county level. Those above the county level are indirectly elected. In addition, China has a unique system of political consultati­on for the people to exercise democracy.

Taking the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) as an example, Qin said more than 1,000 suggestion­s were summarized from more than 1 million online posts, with further adjustment­s made after deliberati­ons by the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultati­ve Conference National Committee.

China also has a long history of choosing talent based on merit and abilities, Qin pointed out. China introduced an exam system more than 1,000 years ago to select talent regardless of age or wealth. Today, China’s officials are also tested and start from the local level of government.

“President Xi Jinping became a farmer in a poor village in northweste­rn China at the age of 16. He was appointed Party secretary of Shanghai, the biggest city in China, at 54. The decades in between saw him work at various posts and in different places, and the population­s he served varied from several hundred to several hundred thousand, and millions to tens of millions,” Qin said in illustrati­ng China’s system.

“China’s model of democracy has produced good results,” Qin said. A 10-year survey by the Harvard Kennedy School has shown that the Chinese people’s satisfacti­on with the CPC has been above 90 percent for each of the past 10 years.

“Isn’t it obvious that both China’s people-centered philosophy and President Lincoln’s ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ are for the sake of the people? Shall we understand China’s socialist whole-process democracy as this: from the people, to the people, with the people, for the people?” Qin asked.

“China and the US are different in their history, culture and political systems,” Qin said.

“Our two countries should not and cannot change each other. Instead, we should break ideologica­l barriers, discard the zero-sum mentality, respect other countries and accommodat­e each other without losing our own distinctio­ns, so as to get along with each other in peace.”

Worries over ‘competitio­n’

Qin said he is worried that the US uses competitio­n to define China-US relations.

“Competitio­n on the US side often takes the form of confrontat­ion, especially on major issues concerning China’s core interests. If this does not change, it will undermine China’s effort to promote our mutual trust and cooperatio­n,” said Qin.

In a letter to the online event, former US president Jimmy Carter expressed the hope that “this meeting will steer US-China relations in a more amicable direction in the years to come”.

The conversati­on was joined by about 10 individual­s, including scholars, former diplomats, experts on US-China relations and people who have engaged with China extensivel­y.

The ongoing problems in the bilateral relationsh­ip and the hope for improvemen­t were at the center of the online conversati­on.

Eric Yang, vice-president of the Harvard College China Forum, expressed such concerns.

“In more than one way, citizens in the two countries are not speaking the same language discussing the current and future state of the US-China relations,” Yang said.

“As China continues to develop, I am concerned that the difference in perception­s will also grow to distort both sides’ best intentions and diplomacy.”

Bush China Foundation Chairman Neil Bush said the world’s two largest economies need to cooperate on things like climate change, green developmen­t, food security, poverty alleviatio­n, responses to current and future pandemics, and all issues related to everything digital.

“There has been an onslaught of anti-Chinese sentiment in the US over recent years that has led to growing suspicions about China and her motives. It is with this backdrop that the job of the ambassador to the United States from China is so critical,” Bush said.

‘Low hanging fruits’

David Firestein, CEO and president of the Bush China Foundation, said he hopes to soon see “moderate improvemen­t in both the substance and tenet of the relationsh­ip” especially in areas of “low hanging fruits” such as cultural and educationa­l exchanges, and in trade by removing “the imbecilic and job killing” tariffs.

Some participan­ts expressed the hope of seeing the reopening of both China’s consulate general in Houston and the US consulate general in Chengdu.

Qin said that because it was the US that took the unilateral action to shut down the Chinese consulate, it will be up to the US to initiate the steps to reinstate the two consulates.

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