I dislike using the word “democracy” in arguments because it’s an emotional term that people have different definitions about, and those rarely are useful in discussions. One thing that is clear is that my definition of what a “good democracy” is is quite different from an lot of other people’s.
My definition of a democracy is a constitutional system in which people in a political community manage to resolve differences in opinion in a way that no one ends up dead or in jail, The United States is much closer to that ideal than China is, and a lot of what I try to do is to promote institutional building in China so that you can incorporate some of the good aspects of the American system.
One important thing about China is that it really doesn’t have a “model”. The economic and political systems in China have been put together by trial and error, and Chinese officials really understand the difficulties in translating one system from one area to another.
One major problem is that the political system in the United States works so well, that Americans don’t realize how difficult it is to implement it. It took the United States two hundred years and a Revolution and a Civil War to get to where it is. It’s unfortunate that most Americans don’t have a good grasp of their own history, because reading the writing of the American historical figures, one is struck by how difficult it was to get things working as well as the do now.
The thing that I find encouraging about Chinese officials is that there is really not that much resistance to adopting parts of the “American system.” There’s far less resistance for Chinese to copy something that was invented in the United Statest, than vice-versa. Chinese banking and securities law is copied wholesale from the United States, and it seems pretty obvious that the China Investment Corporation is a direct copy of Calpers.
What irks people is the tendency of Americans to be moralistic preachers and to be unwilling to listen to other people, and to realize that some parts of the United States simply can’t or shouldn’t be copied in the rest of the world. The United States has a wonderful judicial and higher education system, but that doesn’t mean that the world should copy the US’s health care system. One of the few good things about Iraq is that it has taught the United States some humility.
The United States had total control of a nation, had a chance to turn it into a total democratic paradise, and now realizes how hard it is to create a political system in which people can work with each other in a community without anyone ending up in jail or dead.