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U.S. shouldn't tell others what kind of politics they should have

John Mearsheimer

U.S. shouldn't tell others what kind of politics they should have

Editor's note: The International Forum on Democracy: Shared Human Values is to be held in March in China. What are the characteristics of China's democracy? Does Western skepticism against China's political system hold water? How are people's interests represented in China's political mechanisms? Democracy in China is a three-part series analyzing the above questions. The second essay is about China's political system, drawing from insights shared by John Mearsheimer, distinguished service professor of political science at the University of Chicago, in an interview with CGTN. While the article primarily reflects Mearsheimer's views and does not necessarily those of CGTN, we have included additional facts and data for editorial brevity and clarity.

The United States basically believes that there is only one acceptable form of democracy – liberal democracy, and that every country on the planet should look like the United States. For Washington, if a country doesn't look like the United States, there must be something wrong with that country, in which their political system is fundamentally flawed and in need of changing.

Back in the 1990s, the United States pursued a policy of engagement with China. America's view was that China had an "authoritarian" political system and in the meantime, it had a market economy. While Americans loved the market economy that China had, they disliked the "authoritarian" political system. The American belief was that over time, as China got economically more prosperous, and as China was integrated into international institutions like the WTO, it would become a liberal democracy like the United States.

Much to the chagrin of Western leaders, the policy of engagement did not result in China moving to the Western model. From the point of view of most Western elites, China does not have an acceptable democracy and it is not moving in that direction. And now that there is a security competition, the United States goes to great lengths to disparage and criticize China's political model.

My personal view is that the Chinese are entitled to have whatever political system they want to have. Most Chinese are satisfied with that system. It has worked very well for them, and so be it. According to a global survey conducted by the Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies, 88.8 percent of surveyed Chinese people affirmed the efficiency and effectiveness of their government, while 98 percent were satisfied with the democratic situation in the country. The United States should not run around the world telling other countries what kind of politics they should have.

The opening meeting of the second session of the 14th National People's Congress held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 5, 2024. /Xinhua
The opening meeting of the second session of the 14th National People's Congress held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 5, 2024. /Xinhua

The opening meeting of the second session of the 14th National People's Congress held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 5, 2024. /Xinhua

But it is very important to understand that in some Western or OECD countries including the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea, there is a widespread belief that China's system is badly flawed and that the country's political system is going to cause China problems. In fact, China's political system did not seem to have caused the country problems when it was growing by leaps and bounds, and I guess it will work as well in the future.

Over the decades, China has been modernizing its political, economic and social systems. In terms of modernizing its economy, China has done an outstanding job. There are very few people in the world who are not amazed by China's economic performance. And the country's political system is married to the market economy. This system has worked very well for China. The Chinese have no interest in changing the system or moving to the Western model.

In addition, China has proposed global initiatives including the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI) in recent years for the economic and democratic well-being of not just China, but also the rest of the world. These initiatives may resonate with many countries around the world, especially countries in the Global South, because China is interested in winning friends and influencing people around the world. For many countries on the planet, getting assistance from China is a positive thing.

But from an American point of view, this is not a good thing. Americans want to reduce China's influence around the world. The United States basically wants to run the world. The same thing is true about the rules-based order. The United States wrote the rules. However, China's growing increasingly powerful has made the U.S. very unhappy.

Therefore, there is real competition between the United States and China, which reflects the shift that has taken place in the balance of power. And I do not expect China to lose its power position vis-à-vis the United States over time.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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