In the Chinese government’s paper entitled “The State of American Democracy,” it describes the US as a chronically ill political system in gradual decline, with no real freedom of speech, causing global instability. This document has become an annual tradition after the so-called trade war gradually turned into all-out conflict, part of which is an increasingly virulent rhetorical battle.
The report is obviously part and parcel of the Communist Party’s narrative, but it does offer us the view of Xi Jinping’s apparatus on the United States. And it sends signals both to Washington and to the Chinese themselves. Starting with the date when it was published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry: Monday, March 20, as the Chinese president was landing in Moscow.
This is one way of reiterating that Beijing was not looking for compromises to restart the dialogue between the two sides, and, above all, that it considers its model to be on the rise and more effective than its rival model. Not surprisingly, a white paper released by the State Council in 2021 calls it “true democracy.”
The preamble of the new document is already full of harsh verdicts: “In 2022, the vicious cycle of democratic pretensions, dysfunctional politics and a divided society continued in the United States. Problems such as money politics, identity politics, social rifts, and the gulf between the rich and poor worsened. The maladies afflicting American democracy deeply infected the cells of US politics and society, and further revealed US governance failure and institutional defects.”
The first part of the document focuses on US internal dynamics. The Chinese perspective sees two parties, Democrats and Republicans, both being swallowed up by their most radical wings.
The result is a growing polarization in which politicians put party and personal interests before the good of the country. “In the US, money is the breast milk of politics and elections increasingly morph into monologues of the wealthy,” so much so that freedom of speech, according to Beijing, is only a facade, behind which lies a biased media system. An accusation that might seem paradoxical for a country with such strong controls over public opinion.
But the message here is mainly aimed at an internal audience: the claim is that strong Communist Party control ensures order and a strategy that serves national needs. Beijing also claims there is a “silent civil war” underway in the US, invoking as proof what happened on Capitol Hill.
The second half of the text focuses on the global effects of “American chaos.” The document claims that “in spite of all the problems facing its own democracy, the United States refuses to reflect on itself, but instead continues to export American democratic values to other countries, and use the pretext of democracy to oppress other countries and serve its own agenda.” According to the Chinese government, Washington has exacerbated “division in the international community and bloc-based confrontation,” due to a foreign policy hostage to “political polarization” in the US.
Beijing claims that as a result, US foreign policy “has become more and more extreme,” stressing the oft-quoted notions of “hegemony” and “Cold War mentality.” The examples given are the well-known “fueling the fire” in Ukraine and Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei last year.
In line with Xi’s speeches and more recent initiatives on security and “global civilization,” the document rejects the perspective of a clash between democracies and authoritarianisms, proposing a concept of holistic development in which democratic values can be understood in different ways, all legitimate. Even if, in Beijing’s view, its own is a bit more “true” than the others.