China Slams Western Democracy as Flawed

Updated on
  • Western democracies face looming crisis, party paper says
  • Trump’s current policies are giving China room to boost clout

China State Media Congratulates Trump

China’s state media used Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president to warn about the perils of democracy, touting the relative stability of the Communist system as President Xi Jinping heads toward a twice-a-decade reshuffle of senior leadership posts.

With ministries and senior officials stressing unity as a priority for China, smoothing the path for the party’s congress in the fourth quarter, state media were quick to highlight divisions within America shown by Trump’s elevation, without necessarily directly referencing the new president.

Democracy has reached its limits, and deterioration is the inevitable future of capitalism, according to the People’s Daily, the flagship paper of China’s Communist Party. It devoted an entire page on Sunday to critiquing Western democracies, quoting former Chairman Mao Zedong’s 1949 poem asking people to "range far your eyes over long vistas" and saying the ultimate defeat of capitalism would enable Communism to emerge victorious.

The unusual series of commentaries in the People’s Daily mirrors Soviet efforts to promote an alternative political and economic system during the Cold War. The rise of anti-establishment, protectionist politicians like Trump, amid populist winds on several continents, has sent political parties scurrying to shore up their support, helping China to portray itself as relatively steady.

Xi has used recent speeches to international audiences to tout China’s economic and political values and has said that globalization, despite its flaws, should endure via the existing international system of finance and trade. And he’s signaled China will take a measured approach to any provocations by Trump on trade. That’s even as state media criticizes democracy and capitalism amid efforts to build support at home for the party.

Read more: Xi preaches openness abroad while clamping down at home

"China’s rising wealth has brought greater global presence, but that’s not enough," said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing. “The Communist leaders want that someday China will matter globally for the nature of its political system and create its own universal values.”

The commentaries came after Trump in his inauguration speech said his administration would focus on an “America first” approach to foreign policy, undermining hopes abroad that the new president would moderate his protectionist tone. His pledge to abandon a U.S.-led Pacific trade pact has helped China step in to advocate for an alternative Asia-wide deal.

A panoramic view of the 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States today, in a celebration of American unity for a country that is anything but unified. Photographer: Ricky Carioti/Pool via Bloomberg

The 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20.

Photographer: Ricky Carioti/Bloomberg

‘Reached Its Limits’

The official Xinhua News Agency congratulated Trump and said it hoped for "win-win" cooperation. An editorial in the state-backed China Daily said the countries should work toward "an updated, more desirable version of globalization."

Still, the People’s Daily also used Trump’s inauguration weekend to tout the benefits of China’s political system. "The emergence of capitalism’s social crisis is the most updated evidence to show the superiority of socialism and Marxism," it said.

"Western style democracy used to be a recognized power in history to drive social development. But now it has reached its limits," said another article on the same page. "Democracy is already kidnapped by the capitals and has become the weapon for capitalists to chase profits."

Xi during his term has called for strengthened confidence in China’s communist system. Most recently, China’s top judge called on his cohorts to “absolutely not fall into the trap of false Western ideas” such as judicial independence, separation of powers and constitutionalism.

Rule of Law

Trump’s policies are giving China a chance to take a bigger global role, said Zhang.

"China doesn’t have a better Communist system than it used to have, but the global economic and political turmoil has undermined public confidence in western democracy," he said.

Still, China faces several difficulties, including questions about its rule of law and own governance among foreign companies operating there. While it has gained greater military and economic clout in Asia, it is also embroiled in territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea that have undercut its efforts to build its soft power in the region.

For Xi there is also the risk of a trade war with the Trump administration and a dispute over China’s currency, Li Daokui, a former adviser to the People’s Bank of China, said at a forum in Beijing in December at Tsinghua University.

"There will be several rounds of battles and China needs to be ready to think about solutions in areas that he may initiate battles," said Li, now a professor at Tsinghua. "I believe China is ready for the battles. Without going through the wars, it’s impossible for other nations to respect China’s stance, and it’s impossible for China to become a global leader."

— With assistance by Rosalind Mathieson, and Keith Zhai

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