11/17/2022, 14.21
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First came Athens, now Beijing: long live China’s ‘direct democracy’

by Emanuele Scimia

For Xi Jinping, the new Pericles, China’s “consultative” democracy is the true one since it involves everyone. Yet, China’s regime forgot to consult everyone, like the people who continue to protest against anti-COVID lockdowns, or dissidents, be they religious or academic, who languish in prison or lose their job for not toeing the party line.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The advantage of China's socialist democracy is that “Policy-making [. . .] is not confined to politicians, as in the West, but also includes the grassroots people.”

Thanks to “the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee [. . .] China's socialist democracy” allows, “broad consultation in decision-making and problem-solving.”

The above is the kind of argument found in Chinese government media, especially since Chiese president Xi Jinping gained a third, historic mandate, a mouthful of praise for what supporters call “direct”, or rather “consultative” democracy.

In ancient times, there was Athens; in modern times, there is Beijing. For Xi, the new Pericles, democracy is about solving people's real problems, not making promises or holding elections, which are mere ornaments or decorations.

“Academic studies show policy choices established by public consultation appear to be closely aligned with public opinion,” reads an editorial published by the China Daily on November 10.

Yes, consulting ordinary Chinese is so routine that they continue to protest the never-ending lockdowns imposed under Xi's zero-COVID policy.

The latest case unfolded in the southern city of Guangzhou (Guangdong). Last month, groups of workers fled a plant of Apple iPhone maker Foxconn in Zhengzhou (Henan) after it was placed under COVID-19 quarantine.

Similarly, important protests took place in Tibet, while last spring, Shanghai residents were forced to stay home without food for days.

China’s style of democracy works so well that it can’t even carry out an effective vaccination campaign against COVID-19 (let alone use with vaccines that work).

As Xi would put it, it is a democracy that works, because “It encompasses everyone irrespective of party affiliation,” and included “all people's organisations and ethnic groups from all walks of life.”

Not everyone though, dissidents, for example, who are not involved. They might have been consulted by the one-party state, perhaps via the Internet, but they did not like what was proposed (imposed?) from above.

Instead of a seat in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, nonconformists get room and board in prison or in special restricted residences, perhaps awaiting trial or sentence for years. Or they might simply lose their job.

Ask Xu Zhiyong, founder of the New Citizens Movement, who has been in prison for more than two years for criticising Xi's handling of the pandemic crisis.

Or human rights lawyer Li Yuhan, who has been in jail for more than four years because she defended a group of colleagues targeted by police.

Another one is Mgr Joseph Zhang Weizhu, Catholic Bishop of Xinxiang (Henan), who has been detained illegally, without charge or trial, for over a year.

Last but not least, jurist Xu Zhangrun, who was fired in July 2021 from Qinghua University for speaking out against the Party’s “tyranny”, guilty, in his view, of destroying China’s political system when it was moving towards reforms after Mao Zedong’s death.

Sadly, the list goes on, but the Party does not consult the Chinese on whether or not they want protection from tyranny, an essential aspect of a truly democratic society.

Who really needs ornaments or decorations is Xi. Passing off a police state as a democracy of a different kind is useful for domestic and international legitimacy.

And he is not alone. Even Russia’s Vladimir Putin wants us to believe that there is more than one model of democracy.

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