Should we look at Chinese politics?

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Should we look at Chinese politics?

“Corruption” might be the first word that comes to mind first when we first think of Chinese bureaucrats. We have read so many stories about corruption and scandals in China. However, strangely enough, Chinese people are relatively confident in their own government. According to the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer by the U.S.-based global survey and consulting company, trust in the Chinese government was at 76 percent. The survey covered 33,000 adults with college degrees or higher in 27 countries. It was the second-highest government trust level after the United Arab Emirates’ 88 percent and far higher than Korea’s 45 percent. Why do Chinese people trust their government?

Earlier this year, I visited East China Normal University in Shanghai and saw a public notice posted by the economics department. It stated that a certain professor was to be named the dean of the department, and anyone who opposed should report to the party’s appointment committee. When I asked a friend what it was about, he said that it was the final public verification procedure for the candidates evaluated and selected by the committee. There have been cases when a promotion or appointment is canceled due to reports. I thought it was too much to go through a hearing to become a dean at a university.

However, the university’s procedure was relatively simple. Chinese specialists who attended a “Democracy in Modern China” seminar hosted by the Sungkyun Institute of China Studies said that government ministries usually have a brutally strict verification process for promotions and appointments.

“In the Foreign Ministry, promotion in each degree of public service, from the section chief to the bureau head, to department head and so on, accompanies strict evaluation and verification. Ethics, leadership and performance are taken into account. Reputation is very important. A multidimensional evaluation of peers, bosses and subordinates is conducted. Structurally, a person cannot show preference for someone they have regional or educational ties to. Finally, candidates need to pass the public verification process,” said Beijing University Professor Zhang Yongle (far right in the photo above).

While corruption may prevail in regional government offices, the central government has a solid promotion system to find the most appropriate candidate with ethics and competence. Professor Zhang calls it “political meritocracy.” It is the Chinese alternative to overcome the paradox of Western elections, such as vote-buying and populism. Meritocracy fills the void of democracy in the absence of an election.

How about Korea? Once a candidate passes the civil examination, they would be “automatically” promoted according to their years in service, and if they are not promoted, they would be “parachuted” to a subsidiary agency. Academic background or personal connections are factored into the promotion. As there is no verification tool, it is hard to find a candidate who can pass the National Assembly appointment hearing for high-ranking positions. They self-deprecate, saying they didn’t expect to rise so high. Korea takes pride in having accomplished industrialization and democratization, but we can still take a look at the Chinese Communist Party’s political system.

*The author is the director of the China Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 2, Page 30


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