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Global Viewpoint

China's political system is more flexible than US democracy

Many people believe the Western democracy is superior to a one-party system because the rotation of political power gives government the flexibility to make needed policy changes. But China’s one-party system has proven over time to be remarkably adaptable to changing times.

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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.

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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-minster-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?

Eric X. Li, chairman of Chengwei Capital, is a Shanghai scholar and entrepreneur. He is also affiliated with the Fudan University School of International Relations and Public Affairs. Eric Li’s Chunqiu Institute recently hosted a dialogue between Francis Fukuyama (“The Origins of Political Order”) and Zhang Weiwei (“The China Wave”) on the "China model."

© 2011 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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