A recent statement from a senior member of the party leadership has caused some concern among China’s political reform advocates. The statement, quite bluntly, asserts that China will always have a one-party system, will never copy the Western style of democracy, and will never adopt the separation of powers and checks and balances of the Western political system.
I am more amused than disappointed by this statement. A less blunt way of putting across the same idea would have been to say that we will develop a political system “with Chinese characteristics.” This reminds me of the good old days when all of us engaged in empty yet blunt slogan shouting and chest pounding without much logical basis to back up what we say. In those days, the important thing was that we said politically correct things out loud, to show our intention and determination to be politically correct, not so much that we can offer a sound explanation for our words and why certain things are deemed politically correct while others are not.
Most politicians are alike in this regard. Not every American, even in a supposedly free society, seem to have agonized over the missing link between “freedom” as a founding virtue of this country and invasion of another country halfway around the world in the name of preserving this virtue. Few people seem to be bothered by the inconsistency between Geithner’s statement to the Congress that China manipulates its currency exchange rate and Hillary’s plea to China for it to buy more US treasuries, the net effect of which purchase, of course, is to artificially suppress RMB’s value. The bottomline everywhere, I suppose, is the targeted audience, and what they deem as politically correct.
I am less concerned about the one-party leadership and its corollary that Western democracy should not be copied wholesale. Supreme leadership of the party is not much cause for concern if we realize that the party itself has been, and will continue to be, a constantly morphing establishment. If the party, instead of representing farmers and workers’ interests like it claimed in its early years, and instead of representing bureaucrats’ interests like it seemed to do later on, fairly represents a cross-section of the Chinese demography, then I do not see any conceptual difficulty in likening the party to a vastly expanded electoral college, which nominally claims some remnants of its distant past as its guiding ideology (socialism/communism in the party’s case, freedom from tyranny and oppression in the US’s case, the monarch in the UK’s case) but in practice gives that ideology little present relevance other than the occasional, politically correct references to it.
I am, however, bewildered by the jump to the conclusion that separation of powers and checks and balances should also be rejected. Given the one-party system, isn’t there the possibility (and to some extent, reality) that there can be separate branches of the government all under the party’s supreme leadership, which branches could hold separate powers and constitute checks and balances upon each other? In particular, an independent judiciary could still submit to the party’s supreme leadership, which is itself enshrined in the Constitution and therefore not only politically but also legally binding upon the courts, but could also be free from interference from other branches of the government, so that there can be a fair, efficient and just legal system, which is the foundation of all modern governments, regardless of what ideology the government or the party subscribes to.