Democracy not for China, says Xi Jinping

Political systems of other countries would not suit Chinese, president says on Belgium visit

Queen Mathilde of Belgium, China’s President Xi Jinping, King Philippe of Belgium and Mr Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, prior to a state dinner at Laeken Royal Palace in Brussels. Photograph: Yves Herman/EPA

Queen Mathilde of Belgium, China’s President Xi Jinping, King Philippe of Belgium and Mr Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, prior to a state dinner at Laeken Royal Palace in Brussels. Photograph: Yves Herman/EPA

Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 20:54

President Xi Jinping has reaffirmed China’s commitment to socialism, saying multi-party democracy had failed his country in the past, and China needed to follow its own path of political development to avoid disaster.

There are regular calls from the west for China to embrace pluralism but the ruling Communist Party, which takes its mandate to rule from the 1949 revolution that brought it to power, generally rejects the possibility of any move towards western-style democracy.

China cannot copy the political system or development model of other countries “because it would not fit us and it might even lead to catastrophic consequences”, Mr Xi said in a speech at the College of Europe in Bruges, during his state visit to Belgium. “The fruit may look the same, but the taste is quite different,” he said, quoted by the official state news agency Xinhua.

In China, activists who call for greater democracy are routinely jailed and criticism of the Communist Party’s grip on power is silenced.

The last major push for democratic reform was a quarter of a century ago during a nationwide, student-led pro-democracy movement which had its epicentre on Tiananmen Square in Beijing and was crushed in June 1989.


Experimented
The Chinese people had “experimented with constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentarianism, multi-party system and presidential government, yet nothing really worked”, Mr Xi said.

“Finally, China took on the path of socialism. Admittedly, in the process of building socialism, we have had successful experience and also made mistakes,” he said. “We have even suffered serious setbacks.”

Since the era of “reform and opening-up” had begun under former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, China had “explored and blazed a trail of development and established socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

The 1949 revolution saw the Communists defeat the KMT Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek, who fled to Taiwan, where the KMT also ruled as a single-party state. However, in the 1980s Taiwan introduced political reforms and now has a lively democracy.

There had been hopes that Mr Xi might introduce democratic reform, based on his populist image and the fact that his father, Xi Zhongxun, was a reformer in a limited way. However, since he has come to power, dozens of dissidents have been jailed or placed under house arrest and controls of online expression have been stepped up, along with other forms of censorship.

Some commentators point out that the role model for Mr Xi is not a western-style leader, but a strong authoritarian leader like Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Any reforms he has introduced have been focused on keeping the world’s second largest economy ticking over, and he said these reforms would bring momentum for China’s modernisation drive.