China – an irreversible historical process

Gong Xian (Chinese, 1619-1689), Landscapes with Poems, 1688. (The Met collection)


The Chinese system offers more options than Western democracy

“We met the goal set for the first centenary. The issue of absolute poverty has historically been resolved,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the Communist Party (CPC) centenary celebration. "We have completed the integral construction of a modestly prosperous society in the vast Chinese territory, and we are advancing towards the goal set for the next 100 years: to complete the integral construction of a powerful modern socialist country."

The historical dimension

A century! Deadlines are centuries old. It is the framework in which the Chinese government sets its goals. It's a theme that Singaporean diplomat and academic Kishore Mahbubani brings up when he analyzes the international scene. When future historians study this era, "they will be surprised to see that a republic as young as the United States, less than 250 years old, intended to influence a civilization four times its population and 4.000 years old," Mahbubani said in an article that highlighted the historical dimension of the problem.

Martin Jacques, a British academic and journalist who has lived in China, speaks and writes Mandarin and until recently was a member of the Department of Political and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, published an article last May in which he explains why, from the point of view of From his point of view, the Chinese system offers more options than Western democracy[I]. In 2009, Jacques published a book whose title, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of the New Global Order, refers to the end of the period of western domination and the birth of a new world order. "China has a remarkable ability to reinvent itself in a way that no other country, or civilization, has been able to." “It has demonstrated, over a long period of history, an extraordinary ability to reinvent itself,” he says. With an ancient history, during five periods, it played a predominant role in world history. Other civilizations, he adds, “may have done it once; two, maybe one”. He then compares various aspects of the forms of government between western democracy and the Chinese political regime. “Therein lies the main difference between the two systems,” he says.

For two centuries, the West believed that its was the universal system, that it should serve as a model for others. That it was the perfect and definitive form of world political organization. Jacques then suggests putting things in a historical context. He reminds us that democracy does not emerge in a vacuum, that its relative survival since the end of World War II was the product of certain historical conditions. Particularly from rapid economic growth and the improvement of people's living conditions in general.

western democracy

But this belief that Western democracy is applicable to the whole world “is particularly absurd when applied to China”. Jacques compares the two systems: the effectiveness of the Chinese government, a combination of long-term vision and pragmatism, "has been responsible for the most remarkable economic transformation in human history."

Over the past 40 years, he adds, there is no question which system "has been most effective and served its people best." The West criticizes China's one-party system, saying only a multi-party system offers alternatives. “But the evidence suggests otherwise,” says Jacques. "The transition between Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping evidenced an important shift in policy and philosophy, with the market playing a role in state planning and the rejection of relative isolation in favor of integration with the world."

A change he sees as more profound and far-reaching than any promoted by Western democracies since 1945. In other words, he says, the one-party system, at least in its Chinese form, is capable of offering more alternatives than Western democracies. “Over the past four decades, at least, the Chinese system has been characterized by a process of constant renewal and reform that is in stark contrast to the ossification that characterizes Western democracies.”

Martin Jacques is not referring to Latin America, but perhaps in few regions of the world is this “objectification” of democracy more evident, a concept under which regimes such as those in Colombia or Honduras, Guatemala or Paraguay, Bolsonaro’s Brazil or Chile de Piñera, etc. These are “imperfect democracies” that – in the judgment of the same ossified academics – contrast with the “mature democracies” of the United States or Western Europe, which, among others, share the characteristic of having an ever-decreasing electoral participation.

An irreversible historical process

The Chinese president made reference to this scenario in his speech on July 1, the CCP's centenary. The Chinese nation – said Xi Jinping in his speech – “has a civilization of remote origin and a long history of more than five thousand years, and has made indelible contributions to the progress of human civilization”.

In these one hundred years, “we have reached the height of the most extensive and profound social transformation effected since the historical beginning of the Chinese nation and we have taken the great leap by which an enormous poor, backward and populous country in the East has advanced by gigantic steps towards a socialist society. ”. A historic shift from a highly centralized planned economy to a socialist market economy; from a situation of relatively backward productive forces, to the second place in the world in terms of the overall volume of the economy.

Xi Jinping highlighted the role of the CCP and the Chinese interpretation of Marxism in this process. "Without the CCP there would have been no new China, nor could there have been a great revitalization of the Chinese nation." But this is not just theory, but also China's role in a convulsive international scenario. The Chinese people, he recalled, "never trampled, oppressed or enslaved the peoples of the other countries of the world". We didn't do it before, we don't do it now, and we won't in the future. At the same time, we absolutely do not allow any outside force to overwhelm, oppress or enslave us”. If anyone tries to do so, he added, "they will have their heads smashed against the iron wall of flesh and blood of more than 1,4 billion Chinese."

The Chinese armed forces play a key role on the world stage. To make the country strong, the army must be strengthened, said Xi, who called for a "world-class" army "with more powerful capabilities and more reliable means." And it ended with a warning: “no one can underestimate the firm determination, resolute will and powerful ability of the Chinese people to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country!”, a reference to the situation of the former colonies of Macau and Hong Kong and what is probably the most sensitive scenario in international politics: “the resolution of the Taiwan issue and the materialization of the complete reunification of the motherland”.

The end of the Cold War and the new international order

Days before the CCP's birthday, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, ended a tour of just over a week in Europe. “Dear Tony”, his French colleague Yves Le Drian greeted him in Paris, while the German Heiko Maas expressed his satisfaction that the United States was back at his side, after the four-year absence that represented Trump's diplomacy.

Elise Labott, columnist for the magazine Foreign Policy and professor at the School of International Service at the American University, recalled, in an article about the Blinken tour, that President Joe Biden defined strategic competition with China as the central principle of his foreign policy. A competition that the White House defines as democracy versus autocracy which, in addition to China, also includes Russia.

Blinken avoided calling China an “enemy,” says Labott. He preferred to emphasize the proposal to build a better world, capable of competing with the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative, which he describes as “predatory”. And he changed the confrontational tone used during the meeting with Chinese leaders at the Anchorage meeting last March, which raised fears of the emergence of a new Cold War.

But even as they welcome the United States to reassume its leadership role in the West, Labott said, “Countries around the world are understandably watching to see if they can lead the crusade against the same kinds of populism, authoritarianism, and illiberal behavior which are struggling internally”.

Democracy in international affairs

Russia also weighed in on the discussions. Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov spoke at length on the subject in an article entitled “The West's Historic Domination Comes to an End”, published at the end of June, after the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden in Switzerland. Lavrov criticizes the intention of the United States and the European Union to impose the vision of democracy defended by Washington and Brussels on the whole world. Proclaim their right to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries; apply “sanctions and other illegitimate coercive measures against sovereign states” and, while demanding the adoption of a Western-style model of democracy, forget about democracy in international affairs”.

The most lucid politicians in Europe and the United States “realize that this intransigent policy is going nowhere and begin to think pragmatically, albeit out of the public eye, recognizing that the world has more than one civilization. They are starting to recognize that Russia, China and other great powers have a history that goes back a thousand years and have their own traditions, values ​​and way of life,” said Lavrov.

No country is immune to human rights problems, what is needed is a dialogue of mutual respect. “This implies an unconditional commitment to respect universally accepted norms and principles of international law, including respect for the sovereign equality of States, non-interference in their internal affairs, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the right to self-determination,” he added.

Lavrov accused the European Union of adopting an increasingly aggressive policy against his country, hand in hand with a “Russophobic minority”, which was expressed at the EU summit in Brussels on 24 and 25 June. “The idea expressed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, to hold a meeting with Vladimir Putin, was removed from the agenda before it came to the fore,” he recalled. “It is worth remembering how the West has justified NATO's unreserved expansion to the East, to the Russian border”, while accusing Russia “of adopting an 'aggressive posture' in several regions. This is how they treat Moscow's policy aimed at countering ultra-radical and neo-Nazi aspirations in its immediate vicinity,” said Lavrov, referring to conflicts in Ukraine and Belarus. The historical West, Lavrov concluded, “dominated the world for five hundred years. However, there is no doubt that you see now that this age is coming to an end.”

In Latin America, chaos

In this scenario of uncertainty, with the era of revolutions in the 60s drowned, and the failed offer of neoliberal development more recently exhausted, Latin America is going through a time of renewed conflicts, particularly in two of the exemplary countries of the conservative model: Chile and Colombia.

The popular rebellions in Chile led to the convening of a new Constituent Assembly, which will put an end to the harshest rules of the dictatorial model. In November, the elections could represent another radical change in its political model.

In Colombia, where for decades Uribismo and parapolitics meant the murder of thousands of popular leaders, another rebellion partially paralyzed the country, with no way out of the political deadlock yet in sight.

The assassination of the Haitian president last week, and the complex international connections with this crime, are another reflection of a crisis from which the various Latin American countries cannot escape.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


[I] The article can be viewed at

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