A Pew poll finds that while their democratic system is not perfect, most Americans prefer it to one-party authoritarianism. Photo: iStock

In a comment about a controversial new book that questions Donald Trump’s fitness to hold America’s top office, China’s Global Times took a swipe at the 45th president of the United States.

Reviewing Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, the publication opined on January 7, “Although since World War II US presidents have often come under attack, Trump is the first to have his mental health questioned.”

What’s more, the offspring of the People’s Daily and the Communist Party of China’s official mouthpiece editorialized, “Questioning the mental health of an elected US president satirizes not only the institution but the US electoral system itself.” In fact, it asserted, “This shows the waning quality of US democratic politics.”

More precisely, the nationalist newspaper argued, “From Trump’s electoral victory to his being overwhelmingly questioned, US democracy is suffering a kind of demonic possession.”

It added: “As onlookers, we [the Chinese] find that there are big problems with the US political system from which we should steer well clear.”

By deriding America’s democratically elected president and its political system as a whole, the Global Times implicitly hailed China’s one-party authoritarian system. Of course, this isn’t the first time the Communist-run country’s semi-official media outlet has done so.

In a March 2016 article, it scorned democracy and particularly the US, “which boasts one of the most developed and mature democratic election systems,” because it allowed “the rise of a racist,” alluding to Donald Trump, who was at the time the frontrunner in the Republican primaries.

Citing Italy’s Benito Mussolini and Germany’s Adolf Hitler, who “came to power through elections,” it said Trump’s rise in “the US political area worries the whole world.”

After his shock election win in November 2016, an op-ed in the state-run tabloid asserted that Trump “was known for being a blowhard and an egomaniac” and that “if such a person can be president, there is something wrong with the existing political order.”

The message, or warning, that the CPC-linked newspaper probably wanted to send to the Chinese public through these articles was that Western/American-style democracy is divisive, chaotic and destructive and that they should be happy with their country’s stable authoritarian leadership.

Judging by many of Trump’s comments, actions and their consequences before and especially since his election, the Global Times is right that he is, in many respects, a flawed individual. His recent disparaging remarks about Haiti and African nations are a case in point. That such a person was elected to be the country’s commander-in-chief also indicates that America’s political system has significant weaknesses.

That’s why though China’s media and commentariat often publicly criticize Trump’s character, words and deeds, privately its authoritarian rulers must be happy with his ascendancy to the White House.

Admittedly, Trump’s rise makes the world – especially the Chinese people – realize that America’s democracy isn’t as good as it’s usually advertised and China’s authoritarianism isn’t as bad as it’s traditionally perceived.

His election and particularly his “America first” policies have, in fact, greatly enhanced China’s global image and emboldened Beijing to project strongly – and in some cases, aggressively – its soft power, including its authoritarianism, globally.

But does all that mean that China’s autocratic rule is better – or more desirable – than Western/American democracy, as the Global Times suggests?

A survey by Pew Research Center published last October found that democracy was still widely supported, whereas there was little backing for strongman rule. More precisely, according that survey, 78% of the people in the 38 nations polled (including several neighbors of China, such as India, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam) backed government by elected representatives. In contrast, only 26% agreed that rule by a strong leader was good while 71% said it was bad.

It can be said that although their democracy is currently rather messy, Americans still favor it over China’s stable but autocratic form of government. In the same vein, should they be allowed to choose, perhaps the majority of Chinese people would opt for Western- or American-style democracy

The People’s Republic, which has been continually ruled by the Communist Party since its establishment in 1949, is now under President Xi Jinping’s strongman rule. For some observers, under his watch, the 1.4-billion-population country is transforming into a huge “Big Brother house”, an “all-seeing state”, or even “a police state” because the government has used technology such as facial and voice recognition software, and other means, to monitor its citizens and to suppress any dissent.

If the above findings by Pew are any guide, it is clear that people in many countries, including the US, largely prefer democracy to a tyrannical alternative. According to the same poll by the Washington-based think-tank, 86% of the American public said a democratic system was good and 76% indicated autocracy was bad.

Thus it can be said that although their democracy is currently rather messy, Americans still favor it over China’s stable but autocratic form of government. In the same vein, should they be allowed to choose, perhaps the majority of Chinese people would opt for Western- or American-style democracy.

In its January 7 editorial, the Global Times also contended, “As long as US elites think the public are deplorables, Trump voters won’t rest.” By referring to the word “deplorables,” a term coined by Hillary Clinton to describe Trump’s supporters just two months before America’s November 2016 election, the publication seems to suggest that the Democratic candidate was defeated by Trump because she didn’t respect voters.

If that was the case, it also shows, in a democratic America, that the public does not vote for a politician or a party who doesn’t respect them, let alone one that violates their basic rights. In contrast, in one-party authoritarian China, the people aren’t allowed to do so. All they can do is to submit to whoever and whatever the CPC chooses for them, no matter whether they like it or not.

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Xuan Loc Doan

Dr Xuan Loc Doan researches and writes on a number of areas. These include the domestic and foreign policy of the UK, Vietnam and China, US-China relations and geopolitical issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

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