The Chinese people’s overwhelming and sustained support for the Party’s leadership, as consistently reflected in independent public opinion surveys, is within the context of the nation’s one-party political constitution, and therefore can only be interpreted as support for this fundamental system of government.
Americans’ support for either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party ebbs and flows, but it is not necessarily linked to popular support for its fundamental system of electoral democracy. At the moment, both nations’ peoples support their respective political constitutions.
Some say that in a hypothetical situation in which the Party lost popular support, it should step down from power, and only when this is ensured could the support of the people the Party currently carries be rendered legitimate. Such an argument, if pushed to its logical conclusion, would mean that if, in a hypothetical situation, the current electoral regime in America lost the people’s support, the U.S. must do away with elections, cancel the Bill of Rights, and install an authoritarian or some other system of governance.
This, of course, is absurd. Rulers may be succeeded or rotated peacefully within established systems of governance. Political systems themselves cannot be changed on a dime. With few exceptions, political systems change quickly only through revolutions. In America’s short history, it took two violent wars on its soil to establish and consolidate its current governing system.
The simplest exercise in intellectual diligence would show such argument to be preposterous. Since the Party established the People’s Republic in 1949, under the leadership of a single political party, changes in China’s government policies and political environment have covered the widest possible spectrum.
From the so-called “New Democratic” coalition at the beginning to the dramatic land reforms of the early 1950s, from the Great Leap Forward to the quasi-privatization of farmland in the early 1960s, from the Cultural Revolution to Deng Xiaoping’s market reform and Jiang Zemin’s redefinition of the Party through his “Theory of Three Represents,” China’s domestic politics are almost unrecognizable from one period to another.
In foreign policy, China moved from a close alliance with the Soviet Union in the 1950s to a virtual alliance with the United States in the 1970s and ’80s to contain the former. Today, its pursuit of an independent course in an increasingly multi-polar world is distinctive among the nations of the world. No one could deny that its leaders, from Mao to Deng, from Jiang to Hu and to Xi, differ as widely in political outlooks and policy priorities as those who move in and out of power under any other political system.
Through the six decades, there have been many blunders and corresponding course corrections. The Cultural Revolution – a disaster – was outright condemned. And the country went from its shattered state to the China we know today. The facts demonstrate the extraordinary capability of a one-party system for change and self-correction.
On the other hand, the records of electoral regimes around the world indicate that party rotation through elections may not provide the needed flexibility or self-correction. In the United States, elections may have produced new presidents and congressional majorities, but they do not seem to have done much to tackle America’s long-term challenges.
In Europe, governments regularly get voted in and out, but no elections have produced even the minimal corrections required to address their monumental distress. In the one-prime-minister-per-year Japan, elections and party rotations have failed to lift the country out of its 20-year stagnation. Perhaps this could explain why governments produced by elections routinely fall substantially below 50 percent approval rating in their countries, and China’s one-party government has retained approval rates above 80 percent for decades.
In this season of political change around the globe, in China, in the West, in Japan and the Arab world, is water carrying the ship? Is water overturning the ship? What kind of ship does the water truly want to carry?
A little less ideological bias and a little more intellectual honesty might tell us some simple truths: electoral rotations do not necessarily produce flexibility or legitimacy; one-party rule does not mean rigidity or lack of popular support.
Perhaps, and just perhaps, if those who are convinced of the moral superiority of their political system would spare the energy from lecturing, verbally and militarily, and spend it on some self-reflection, it might even help their own countries. Who is really having “bad emperor” problems?