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Presentation by Cousellor Ms. Zhang Dan at the UN Seminar on "The interdependence between Democracy and Development"


(1 September, 2011)

Colleagues, Distinguished guests,

I will begin by thanking UNDEF and UNITAR for inviting me to this very interesting discussion. My comments on the linkage between democracy and development will be based on what I see as China’s experience.

Democracy and good governance is the cornerstone for development and vice versa. Democracy and development are two sides of a coin. They go hand in hand and reinforce each other. China’s experience provides a valid example in this regard. In the past thirty years, China enjoyed rapid economic and social development, which brings with it massive transformation of society, steady political reform and reinforced democracy and rule of law. Based on China’s experience, I’d like to share with you how I view democracy and how democracy and development relates to each other.

Firstly, what is democracy?

For me, I like the definition given by U.S. president Abraham Lincoln. He defined democracy as and I quote: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

If you want to understand why China pursues a socialist democratic system, it is better to know something about Chinese history. In a brief period of time in history, China did adopt western style democracy, which is representative democracy, in the year 1912electing a president and creating a parliament. But the system was unable to rescue China from colonization and foreign occupation and could not salvage Chinese from their long-endured sufferings and deprivation. In the fight for independence and freedom in the 19th and 20th century, some Chinese young people formed instead a communist party in 1921, which gradually gained the support of many Chinese and led to the creation of an independent country in 1949. So our political system is not imposed upon us by others, it is the choice of the people and it represents the interest of Chinese people.

Secondly, how does China’s socialist democratic system contribute to development?

Throughout its 60 years in power, the government has always taken a people-centered approach to all social and economic policies and strategies, particularly those relating to development, thus gradually improving people’s livelihood and the rule of law.

Over the past thirty years since the reform and open-up policies was adopted, China’s per capital GNI has increased from $190 in 1978 to the current $3650, transforming China from a least developed country to a lower middle income country. In 1978, more than 250 million people live in absolute poverty, accounting for one-fourth of the total population. Now people living in absolute poverty has reduced to 15 million, accounting for less than 2% of the total population, while based on world bank criteria of $1.25 a day, the people living in poverty is still high. That is why China is still a developing country.

The rapid economic development not only improves people’s well-being and living standards, but also expands social equity and social inclusion. Especially in recent years, the government is putting more and more emphasis on social protection, aiming to create a social protection floor and social safety net covering all citizens, both urban and rural areas. A massive medical care overhaul is also undertaken to provide primary health care and health services to the poor. By now, China has achieved MDG goals on poverty reduction (MDG1), primary education (MDG2) and reducing child mortality (MDG4) and is well on track to achieve other goals by 2015.

The essence of China’s development is to put people’s interest first, favoring no partisan interest, not a particular social group, but the long term interest of all the people on top of any other factors in mapping out policies and programs. This is the ruling party’s basic tenet and guiding principle that ensures that all the policies are adaptable and transformable according to the desire of the people and the particularities of different situations and realities on the ground.

Now, let’s me touch upon how economic and social development relates to or promote democracy in China?

Over the past thirty years, our development is coupled with great improvement in the rule of law, democracy, freedom and promotion and protection of human rights. By the end of 2010, China has formulated 236 laws. Citizen’s political participation has been expanded so as to ensure rights to information, participation, expression and supervision. Policymaking process is more transparent and open, with the introduction of public hearing and other means. Many of these laws contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, the revised Electoral Law approved in March 2010 explicitly stipulates that urban and rural deputies to the people’s congresses shall be elected in accordance with the corresponding population proportions, which guarantees citizens of both urban and rural areas the equal right to vote. This marks significant step in China’s progress on democracy. Over the past two years, the State has promulgated the Amendment VIII to the Criminal Law, the Social Insurance Law and the Tort Liability Law, and revised many other laws including the Labor Law, the Education Law, the Agriculture Law and the Law on Maternal and Infant Health Care, etc. To give you an example, the Amendment to the Criminal Law abolished the death penalty for 13 types of economic non-violent crimes, accounting for nearly one-fifth of the total number of crimes that carry death penalty.

Finally, I want to conclude my remarks by using former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s words. He said and I quote:No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. Along the same line, I would say: “The socialist democratic system is not perfect or all-wise, but it might be the best for China’s circumstances and its people.” I won’t argue for others to copy our model of development or political system since we never completely copy others` models. But I would argue for all countries to find their own paths to prosperity and good governance, rather than just transplant others` system and experiences. Democracy or development must be self-owned and self controlled. There is no unified form of democracy that suits all the courtiers.

Thank you for your attention.

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