Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. China remained an international pariah for years after the massacre.
A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. China remained an international pariah for years after the massacre.

US and China are still polls apart

They are the world's top two economies, yet they are just as philisophically opposed as ever. You only have to look at how they elect their leaders. Hannah Gardner reports from Beijing

BEIJING // The last time a US presidential election coincided with the Chinese Communist Party Congress was in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the White House and Jiang Zemin became general secretary.

China was an international pariah then, three years after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Despite more than a decade of market-orientated reforms, 300 million citizens still lived in poverty.

Fast forward 20 years and China's economy is second only to that of the US, and is predicted by some experts to pass it within the decade. For some, Beijing has also become a centre of global power to rival Washington.

Yet in terms of political culture, these two "superpowers" remain worlds apart. There is no better illustration of that than the way they choose their leaders.

When the US president is elected on Tuesday, it will mark the end of an 18-month democratic process that started with about 20 would-be candidates. In the past months the final two candidates, Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney, have been crossing the country looking for votes.

Contrast this with China where, on November 15, after months of secretive negotiations and a week-long congress in Beijing, the Communist Party will name the men who will run the country for the next 10 years.

The identity of the future leader of China has been an open secret since at least 2010: Xi Jinping. He is widely expected to take over from Hu Jintao as general secretary, which makes him head of state.

Mr Xi is one of only two members of the current nine-man politburo standing committee, the top decision-making body, who is not retiring.

There is likewise no secret about who will take over from Wen Jiabao as the head of government: Li Keqiang, the other member of the committee who is not retiring.

While the promotion of Mr Xi and Mr Li is widely known, the party has never officially confirmed it because China likes to present itself as a democracy.

Technically, the standing committee is "elected" by the party's 370-member central committee. That body is "elected" by the 2,270-member party congress, which will start meeting on Thursday.

To strengthen the illusion that the new leaders are selected by the people rather than the congress, Chinese television has been in overdrive showing how members of the general public are "welcoming the 18th congress".

The people design huge floral displays, prepare patriotic dance routines and build domino models.

But none of them will have a chance to review their new leaders' qualifications, let alone vote.

As a result, many Chinese people are more interested in the US election than their own leadership changes.

Despite the nearly half-day time difference, the three US presidential debates were watched live on websites such as ifeng.cn and translated by members of its growing army of "netizens".

DVDs went on sale online, although they are billed as an English teaching tools.

"Discussing national issues openly and upfront is so different from having a meeting behind a closed door," said one person who watched the debates online.

Another wrote: "Isn't it a shame that I, a citizen of China, know more about how the US elects its leader than I do about our system."

Yet few suggest China should adopt a US-style democracy now. While many express frustration at corruption and abuse of power, they are also conscious of the vast improvements in living standards over the past 30 years.

"Democracy is not to be achieved in one day," wrote Yishiting on his Weibo micro-blogging account. "I really don't know what kind of person would be elected if everybody voted now.

"At least I don't think I'm ready."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National