The city view in Lhasa, southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region, June 15, 2023. /Xinhua
With the release of the white paper entitled "CPC Policies on the Governance of Xizang in the New Era: Approach and Achievements" on November 10, the spotlight in the Chinese media is on the Xizang Autonomous Region.
Western corporate media typically depict Xizang as a region devoid of democracy and human rights. In terms of human rights, boarding schools that solve the problem of schooling for dispersed communities become forced assimilation, and job training in aid of poverty alleviation becomes forced labor. Basic tools, essential for democracy, like education and income are twisted into a horror story.
Democracy is not an abstraction randomly defined by a singular process such as a national election for a candidate preselected by narrow class interests. It is a material reality, where benefits can be seen and felt by everyone because policies reflect the greater social good. China's fast development and poverty alleviation represent the biggest real success of democracy the world has ever seen.
This expression is also felt in Xizang which, having discarded its feudal past in 1959 to start on its democratic journey, declared victory over poverty in 2019 after lifting all 628,000 registered impoverished people and 74 designated poor counties out of poverty. Xizang has arisen out of grinding poverty which is reflected in an average life expectancy of 35.5 years in 1959 compared to 72.19 years today.
Democracy improves people's lives; it doesn't impoverish them. Xizang's GDP per capita dwarfs all states that border it and the gap is increasing. Already, for the first nine months of 2023, Xizang's GDP is up 9.8 percent and this is reflected in the per capita disposable incomes of urban and rural residents in Xizang which have increased by 5.8 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively. Matching this democratic process for families and individual consumers is also the linking up of Xizang with a high-speed speed rail that runs at over 5,100 meters above sea level and the doubling of road length from 2012-2020.
For China and its Xizang Autonomous Region, democracy is not a switch to be turned on and off but a process to be improved on. China conscious of this is constantly seeking to improve its consultative form of democracy known as "whole-process people's democracy," which enacts the will of the people, not through four-year election cycles but by measuring opinions and taking suggestions daily, through its various governing bodies which is then reformulated into policy.
People watch Xizang Opera, Lhasa, China's Xizang Autonomous Region, August 19, 2023. /Xinhua
On the macro level, China's five-year economic plans are also a display of China's democracy in action. Constructed and reviewed at all levels of society, a development plan for all is drawn up. Xizang features heavily in China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).
Not satisfied with defeating absolute poverty in Xizang, the 14th Five-Year Plan is aiming for rural revitalization, which will bring new industries and business models to the countryside of Xizang. Then there are large-scale green infrastructure projects like the Sichuan-Xizang railway which has already been completed and the development of Xizang hydropower resources which is essential for Xizang's green future.
China's democracy is reflected at the micro level too. The tremendous economic achievements such as the lifting up of those in severe poverty could not be done without grassroots democracy – to uplift the people, one must hear their voice and take into account their needs.
For example, the update of the 90-kilometer road linking Doyu Lhoba Ethnic Autonomous Township to Longzi County in Xizang and the building of improved accommodation came about due to grassroots democracy which took into account the proposals of locals and their representatives.
In Xizang, like the rest of China, elections occur at the local level of people's congresses and village committees. Local representatives are then elected up to higher people's congresses. This means government officials in China have real experience working in communities at the lowest level; they must prove themselves as capable in their positions before being elected to higher levels of power. Being from the people, it shouldn't come as a surprise that 90 percent of deputies in Xizang are from local ethnic groups and it is they who communicate and deal directly with residents in Xizang.
The material progress witnessed in Xizang is proof that its social democracy is bearing fruit and the solving of more than 1,300 suggestions, criticisms, and opinions delivered to the Standing Committee of the Xizang Autonomous Regional People's Congress, which have been solved through consultation from 2018 to 2022 also suggests that Xizang's governing institutions are sound.
However, in China, development never stops and this is true of democracy too. To improve the democratic process, 772 service stations are being built across Xizang which will act as a communication point between residents and deputies. This improvement is not a one-off, China will constantly be reflecting on its institutions and processes to ensure that democracy in China remains a material reality and not an abstraction.
(Keith Lamb,a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a University of Oxford graduate with a Master of Science in Contemporary Chinese Studies. His primary research interests are China's international relations and "socialism with Chinese characteristics.")
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