Venture capitalist and fan of ‘Chinese exceptionalism‘, Eric X. Li thinks everyone is being too hard on the Communist Party of China’s completely opaque and undemocratic way of picking the country’s leaders.
Writing in the Financial Times with Daniel Bell, a professor of political theory at Tsinghua University, Li argues that criticisms of the Chinese leadership transition, for being corrupt, unrepresentative, and completely lacking in transparency; “miss the big picture”:
The Chinese political system has undergone a significant change over the past three decades and it comes close to the best formula for governing a large country: meritocracy at the top, democracy at the bottom, with room for experimentation in between.
It’s difficult to come up with any sort of response to this other than spluttering disbelief or manic laughter, but we’ll try. Li fails to explain how the “meritocracy at the top” of the Chinese political system consistently favours allies of either Hu Jintao or Jiang Zemin. I guess Wang Yang, who oversaw massive economic growth in Guangdong, just wasn’t working hard enough.
As for “democracy at the bottom”, let me know when independents standing in village elections aren’t routinely harassed by Party officials, or when the majority of ballots have more than one candidate on them.
In a big country, however, one person, one vote is problematic. From a moral point of view, citizens should vote for the common good because their votes affect not just themselves but other people. Yet voters tend to vote with their pocketbooks. Many can’t even do that well, since they lack economic competence. One group of voters – the rich – has a better understanding of economics and finds it easy to skew the system in their favour.
The stupid proles can’t be trusted to vote for who we think is best, therefore they should not be able to vote at all.
There is a deeper problem with democracy. It confers voting rights only to adults within national borders. But it’s not just voters who are affected by the policies of the government: non-voters such as future generations and people living outside the country are also affected.
Please explain to me how those outside national borders and future generations of Chinese have an input into the current leadership selection process.
Over the past three decades or so, the CPC has gradually transformed itself from a revolutionary party to a meritocratic organisation.
Instead of wasting time and money campaigning for votes, leaders can seek to improve their knowledge and performance.
Instead of worrying about the opinions of voters, leaders can be as corrupt as they like and fill their pockets from the public purse.
When it comes to political systems, western opinion leaders are still stuck in a narrative of dichotomy: democracy versus authoritarianism. But the competition in the 21st century, as the scholar Zhang Weiwei writes, is between good and bad governance.
In conclusion: Eric X. Li and Daniel Bell are fucking idiots.