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  • Julia G. Bowie and Nathanael Callan

China's "New Type of Party System": A "Multiparty" System for Foreign Consum

Wang Huning addresses the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang [Rao Aimin/Xinhua]

At a March 4 panel discussion at the first session of the 13th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Chinese leader Xi Jinping officially rebranded China’s system of “multiparty cooperation” as China’s “new type of party system.” Xi highlights an often overlooked aspect of China’s political system: while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dominates all political decision-making in China, eight other minority parties are officially recognized as participants in the process. And while the minority parties nominally represent non-communist elements of Chinese society in the CPPCC, they are primarily used as united front tools to align non-communist groups with the will of the central authorities.

The rebranding mirrors a series of new labels, such as the “new type of great power relations” and “new type of international relations,” that Xi has applied to China’s style of diplomacy and international relations. These new labels are intended to improve China’s global image and foster the idea that China’s rise will positively reshape the world order.

Applying the “new type” paradigm to a hallmark of China’s domestic politics comes at a time when Beijing is increasingly marketing its willingness to share its “governance experience” with other developing countries as an attractive feature of strategic and economic cooperation with China. The relabeling thus indicates that China’s minority political parties, some of which define overseas Chinese, Taiwanese, or former KMT members as their “main constituents,” will increasingly be deployed as a tool of China’s external propaganda on behalf of the CCP.

Following Xi’s remarks on the “new type of party system,” a concerted effort has emerged among CCP propagandists, united front officials, and minority party leaders to flesh out the concept and define how it can be applied to united front goals. United Front Work Department Head You Quan held a session for minority party leadership a few weeks later to discuss “persevering with, developing, and perfecting China’s new type of party system.” Notably, he considered the utility the concept has for external propaganda, instructing minority party leaders to “talk about the ‘China story’ of multiparty cooperation.”

Further highlighting the intention to market the “new type of party system” label internationally, the People’s Daily’s Zhong Sheng column, used to authoritatively transmit the views of the CCP’s paper on international affairs, released an English language article in March on how the “new type of party system enlightens the world.” The article pits China’s party system against “the chaos in the [sic] Western society,” providing countries with “a China solution on how to seek a better political system.”

Given their role in the CCP’s united front work and their interaction with foreign dignitaries, the writings and statements of the chairpersons of China’s minority parties should not be neglected. At official forums and in significant united front papers such as Tuanjie Bao, these chairpersons have gone beyond reiterating Xi’s directives and instead have proposed that the Chinese political system is not just better than Western models, but an alternative to them as well.

On March 8, China Democratic League Central Committee Chairman Ding Zhongli said at a press conference for his party that “the multiparty cooperation system explained by the general secretary is China’s creation…This system first of all is different from the one-party system, and is also different from Western competitive multiparty system, our [system] is the multiparty cooperative system led by the CCP.”

On March 28, China Association for Promoting Democracy Chairman Cai Dafeng stated that China’s current system is “a historical decision… in the not-so-distant past China saw the Western style parliamentary system and all the efforts of the multiparty system, but in the end both failed..”

On May 10, Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang Central Committee Chairman Wan Exiang wrote: “Ever since a long time ago, some Western countries have attacked and defamed our form of government and political system through every mean and method; they are obsessed with misrepresenting our multiparty cooperation, distort consultative democracy, and enthusiastically promote Western ‘two-party systems’ and ‘multiparty systems.’ They cause some rumbling noises and everyone is unable to put up with it any longer.”

Minority party chairpersons’ comments also recognize that China’s current political system has grown from the “soil” of the failure of Republican Chinese rule. While in other contexts this “soil” is presented as exceptional, chairpersons suggest that the tragedy of the Republic of China between assassinations and war is hardly unique in the world, and other countries could adopt China’s system.

On March 6, China Democratic National Construction Association Central Committee Chairman Hao Mingjin responded to questions from a Xinhua journalist at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where he stated: “The innovation and development of our country’s multiparty cooperation system has also caused some countries in the world to see the new model and new pattern of party relations of our country’s political party system, for the political development of the world’s party and government administrations offer China’s proposal and China’s wisdom.”

On June 4, Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League Chairman Su Hui wrote an essay posted to her party’s website and the CPPCC website that stated “…In the distinct contrast of Western ‘chaos’ to China’s ‘governance,’ China’s plan and China’s wisdom are offered and contributed for the exploration of even better political systems for humanity.”

In reality, the “new type of party system” is neither new nor an institutionalized system of multiparty democracy. Nevertheless, China’s “new type of party system” has been clearly presented as a rejection of the Republican Chinese system and the Western democratic model; an extension of the socialist system; and as a model for developing nations to adopt and developed nations to understand.

On July 19, while visiting Bijie, Guizhou, Xi Jinping again told united front officials “to unceasingly express well the superiority of the Chinese Communist Party-led multiparty cooperation system.”

Minority party chairpersons have done just that in their public statements since March. These directives have already been communicated down to the members of the minority parties, who will use them as a guide in their interactions with united front targets and foreign dignitaries.

Despite Xi’s denials, a Chinese political model is indeed being offered to the world.

This article first appeared in The Diplomat. It is adapted from the "Party Watch Quarterly Report 1|3." Click here to read the full report.

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