China's ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang speaks during an online discussion Wednesday hosted by the Carter Center and the George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China relation. （Photo/Chinese Embassy in the U.S.）
China's ambassador to the United States said his country applies democratic concepts differently and rejected the portrayal of the nation as authoritarian.
In an online discussion on Wednesday hosted by the Carter Center and the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations (Bush China Foundation), Ambassador Qin Gang spoke extensively on the Chinese concept of democracy.
"A fundamental (misunderstanding) is to define America's relations with China as democracy versus authoritarianism, and to stoke up ideological confrontation, which has led to serious difficulties in China-U.S. relations," Qin said.
China is a democracy in a different form, the ambassador said. Traditionally, people have always been regarded as the most important element of a country. An ancient Chinese ruler believed that the people are to the monarch what water is to a boat. The water can carry the boat; it can also overturn the boat. The founding mission of the Communist Party of China is to pursue happiness for the people, Qin said.
Qin said today's China enjoys a whole-process democracy. People have the right to election, and people's congresses from the local level to the national level are similar to U.S. state legislatures and Congress. Deputies are directly elected to people's congresses at county level. Those above the county level are indirectly elected. In addition, China has a unique system of political consultation for the people to exercise democracy.
Taking the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) as an example, Qin said more than 1,000 suggestions were summarized from more than 1 million online posts, with further adjustments made after deliberations by the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee.
China also has a long history of choosing talent based on merit and abilities, Qin pointed out. China introduced an exam system more than 1,000 years ago to select talent regardless of age or wealth. Today, China's officials are also tested and start from the local level of government.
"President Xi Jinping became a farmer in a poor village in northwestern China at the age of 16. He was appointed Party secretary of Shanghai, the biggest city in China, at 54. The decades in between saw him work at various posts and in different places, and the populations he served varied from several hundred to several hundred thousand, and millions to tens of millions," Qin said in illustrating China's system.
"China's model of democracy has produced good results," Qin said. A 10-year survey by the Harvard Kennedy School has shown that the Chinese people's satisfaction with the CPC has been above 90 percent for each of the past 10 years.
"Isn't it obvious that both China's people-centered philosophy and President Lincoln's 'of the people, by the people, for the people' are for the sake of the people? Shall we understand China's socialist whole-process democracy as this: from the people, to the people, with the people, for the people?" Qin asked.
"China and the U.S. are different in their history, culture and political systems," Qin said.
"Our two countries should not and cannot change each other. Instead, we should break ideological barriers, discard the zero-sum mentality, respect other countries and accommodate each other without losing our own distinctions, so as to get along with each other in peace."
Worries over 'competition'
Qin said he is worried that the U.S. uses competition to define China-U.S. relations.
"Competition on the U.S. side often takes the form of confrontation, especially on major issues concerning China's core interests. If this does not change, it will undermine China's effort to promote our mutual trust and cooperation," said Qin.
In a letter to the online event, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter expressed the hope that "this meeting will steer U.S.-China relations in a more amicable direction in the years to come".
The conversation was joined by about 10 individuals, including scholars, former diplomats, experts on U.S.-China relations and people who have engaged with China extensively.
The ongoing problems in the bilateral relationship and the hope for improvement were at the center of the online conversation.
Eric Yang, vice-president of the Harvard College China Forum, expressed such concerns.
"In more than one way, citizens in the two countries are not speaking the same language discussing the current and future state of the U.S.-China relations," Yang said.
"As China continues to develop, I am concerned that the difference in perceptions will also grow to distort both sides' best intentions and diplomacy."
Bush China Foundation Chairman Neil Bush said the world's two largest economies need to cooperate on things like climate change, green development, food security, poverty alleviation, responses to current and future pandemics, and all issues related to everything digital.
"There has been an onslaught of anti-Chinese sentiment in the U.S. over recent years that has led to growing suspicions about China and her motives. It is with this backdrop that the job of the ambassador to the United States from China is so critical," Bush said.
'Low hanging fruits'
David Firestein, CEO and president of the Bush China Foundation, said he hopes to soon see "moderate improvement in both the substance and tenet of the relationship" especially in areas of "low hanging fruits" such as cultural and educational exchanges, and in trade by removing "the imbecilic and job killing" tariffs.
Some participants expressed the hope of seeing the reopening of both China's consulate general in Houston and the U.S. consulate general in Chengdu.
Qin said that because it was the U.S. that took the unilateral action to shut down the Chinese consulate, it will be up to the U.S. to initiate the steps to reinstate the two consulates.