by Rick O'Shea
BEIJING, March 9 (Xinhua) -- As an American who grew up in the United States and has lived in China for a few decades, I have found a keyword that many people talk about is "democracy." Many in the United States think that China is not democratic. In my opinion, seeing is believing. The democracy I've seen in China is vibrant and very effective.
Every year at this time, when spring flowers bloom, the "two sessions" -- China's important annual political gatherings -- are held in Beijing, and this year was no exception.
In Western countries such as the United States, where democracy and elections are essentially equated, people elect someone and hope for the best. In China, democracy is more than elections. The "two sessions" have been a window to showcase the strength and vitality of China's democracy. Last year before the "two sessions," my colleagues and I had the opportunity to visit a Shanghai community, which gave me a sense of how China's whole-process people's democracy works on a daily basis.
In Shanghai's Hongqiao subdistrict, we interviewed Noyan Rona, a Turkish banker and an enthusiastic volunteer. Rona told us that, when approached about a draft revision to the individual income tax law in 2018, he suggested adding the word "accumulated" before the individual tax residency threshold of 183 days in a tax year to make the rule more explicit.
Rona recalled this story from several years ago with renewed excitement. His suggestion was adopted and written into law, which would influence a lot of foreigners living in China, he proudly told us.
I was very curious to know that, for residents like Rona who are keen to offer opinions, in what ways can they have their opinions heard by lawmakers? At a civic center in Hongqiao, we saw a type of red mailbox designed to collect letters of opinion from residents.
In fact, the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee set up a community-level contact station at the civic center. The red mailboxes are part of their facility. Draft laws are sent down here so that ordinary citizens can discuss them and have their opinions heard. In other words, the voices of grassroots people will reach the highest legislative body.
Since the establishment of the contact station in 2015, 78 draft laws, including the Foreign Investment Law, have been discussed here by residents in Hongqiao and 163 pieces of advice incorporated, including Rona's suggestion about individual income tax law.
I learned from this year's "two sessions" that similar community-level contact stations have been set up across the nation, becoming the "through train" for the grassroots voices to reach the national legislature. What I didn't know was that as a foreigner living in China, I also have such rights.
Of course, the channels themselves do not guarantee full participation. There is an important role to play for representatives of public opinion at the grassroots. They are the 2.77 million deputies to people's congresses at all levels nationwide.
Deputies would visit organizations and individuals that can vote, hear and collect public opinions, and conduct research for the proposals and suggestions they submit. They would also participate in research trips, seminars, dialogues, and open-day events to talk about issues of public concern. In addition, they would receive training from time to time to enhance their ability to perform their duties.
The practice in Hongqiao is very successful. In November 2019, President Xi Jinping visited the civic center while a consultation meeting on a draft law was underway. Xi talked to both the Chinese and foreign residents attending the meeting, and for the first time made the remark that "People's democracy is a type of whole-process democracy."
Compared with legislators in the West who make politics their career and usually have a staff and campaign team, NPC deputies come from all walks of life and all 56 ethnic groups in China. Most of them are part-timers, who work and live among their people and therefore understand their needs best.
In an interview with Xinhua, Rick Dunham, a U.S. visiting professor at Tsinghua University, pointed out that in the United States, there are more lawyers, doctors, and top managers involved in politics. In China, one finds more grassroots representation including blue-collar workers, farmers and takeaway riders. I would agree with his conclusion that China's NPC deputies are more representative than U.S. lawmakers.
From protecting workers' rights in the food-delivery and car-hailing industries to alleviating the pressure of excessive schoolwork and off-campus tutoring; from solving the financing difficulties of SMEs to protecting the ecology of the Yellow River... Deputies and political advisors collect and sort out the opinions of ordinary people, which often form the basis of their proposals and suggestions. Some of these ideas will be incorporated into relevant laws, regulations, systems, policies, decisions and arrangements.
Over the past five years, as I was told, some 18,000 pieces of advice from national lawmakers and political advisors have been adopted by relevant departments of the Chinese central government and over 7,800 policy measures have subsequently been introduced. As a result, many problems have been addressed related to the country's reform and development and the people's most urgent needs.
In a nutshell, China's democracy is a whole process that can involve all people. To let the people discuss the affairs of their own and to make sure that the people are in charge are the essence of the "whole-process people's democracy." ■