Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chinese Meritocracy Exposes Flaws in Western Democracy

Zang Weiwei, professor of international relations at Fudan University and senior fellow at Chunqiu Institute, holds a pro-Chinese one-party system view in comparison to multi-party systems in democratic countries.
From "Meritocracy versus Democracy" (NY Times), Zang Weiwei, professor of international relations at Fudan University and senior fellow at Chunqiu Institute, shares his perspective on Chinese and Western political systems, making a case that the Chinese political system is more likely to advance the Chinese people's interests than western counterparts are to advance western people's interests.

The main deficiency in Weiwei's argument is that he is comparing the Chinese political system to the practical realities of western democracies, rather than to the theoretical reality of western democracies. Consequently, current western democracy, due its shortcomings, may fall short of the efficient and centrally controlled Chinese system.

The question arises is an advanced, legitimate democratic system more in the people's interest than a centrally controlled system based on merit and elections?

Ideally, democracy should be solely about the voice of the people (as a whole), and elections should be free, fair, and equitable, and through open, fair, equitable electoral competition, the individuals and parties who best represent the voice of the people should be elected. (The premise being that competition produces the best outcome.) In my humble opinion, I don't think this model of democracy and government can be surpassed. Unfortunately, western democracies have become increasingly unfair and inequitable, and thereby weakening electoral competition. The United States federal electoral system is a good example of this phenomenon, in which two parties have a significant electoral process advantage over all other parties.

Fundamental Contradiction of American Society

The Chinese counterpart is limited by political selection and election within the confines of one party, and therefore it undermines selection and election competition. Chinese people perspectives are limited to the ideas and actions of one party, and therefore the Chinese people lack a meaningful basis for evaluation of government officials and policies. The danger of this autocratic approach is that it limits the potential of the Chinese people by the limits of the one-party system, similar to the limits on Americans' potential through the limits of its two-party system.

If democracy based on open, fair, equitable electoral competition and transparent and accountable government is not attainable, then the Chinese counterpart may be the better system than western political systems pretending to be democratic or being a shell of democracy.  

Excerpt from "Meritocracy versus Democracy":

".... China’s meritocracy challenges the stereotypical dichotomy of democracy v. autocracy. From Beijing’s point of view, the nature of a state, including its legitimacy, has to be defined by its substance: good governance, competent leadership and success in satisfying the citizenry.

Notwithstanding its many deficiencies, the Chinese government has ensured the world’s fastest growing economy and vastly improved living standards for most people. According to the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of Chinese surveyed in 2012 feel optimistic about their future, topping all other countries surveyed.
Indeed, Abraham Lincoln’s ideal of “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” is by no means easy to achieve, and American democracy is far from meeting this objective. Otherwise the Nobel economics laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz would not have decried, in perhaps too critical a tone, that the U.S. system is now “of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, and for the 1 percent.”

China has become the world’s largest laboratory for economic, social and political change, and China’s model of “selection plus election,” is in a position now to compete with the U.S. model of electoral democracy.

Winston Churchill’s famous dictum — “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried” — may be true in the Western cultural context. Many Chinese even paraphrase Churchill’s remark into what China’s great strategist Sun Tzu called “xiaxiace,” or “the least bad option,” which allows for the exit of bad leaders.

However, in China’s Confucian tradition of meritocracy, a state should always strive for what’s called “shangshangce,” or “the best of the best” option by choosing leaders of the highest caliber. It’s not easy, but efforts in this direction should never cease.

China’s political and institutional innovations so far have produced a system that has in many ways combined the best option of selecting well-tested leaders and the least bad option of ensuring the exit of bad leaders." 

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

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