PHL: Learning from China

By Herman Tiu Laurel

                China has produced an economic-political miracle that has been dubbed by many as a “miracle” unique in the 5.000 years history of Mankind.

                Modernizing in 70 years a feudal, backward society anchored by tradition and political fossilization to millenniums of social inertia, soon to become the largest economy in the World, lifting 700 billion out of poverty and at the cutting edge of the Cyber Age in technology.

                On the other hand, the Philippines was once among the most advanced in Asia, having ridden on the back of the rise of Western Civilization in the second half of the 2nd Millenia, establishing the first Western style University of Santo Tomas in 1611, the first anti-colonial revolution in 1896, and being Asia’s second richest economy with American patronage after WWII.

                However, after the 1960s from being at the top the Philippines declined to the bottom of the top 5 major economies of ASEAN today behind Vietnam in growth rate and just above the second-tier economies of the regional association with significantly lower population and economic scales (i.e. Cambodia, Laos, et al).

                The Philippines was once a center of Asian technological learning; for example, rice growers from ASEAN and even from China came to the Philippines to learn productivity methods, but the tables has been turned and it seems it is the Philippines that must now learn from its neighboring countries.

                Filipinos are fond of recalling the good old days when other countries came to the Philippines to study in our universities, go to IRRI to pick up the latest rice technology, and lament how far we have now lagged behind since those days.

                Nowadays, we often find the country crying out about the latest findings from international education surveys ranking Filipinos among the lowest in reading, math and science. The recent survey of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported these results.

                Meanwhile China, which has risen out of poverty only starting in the 1980s but which had a literacy rate of only 25% in 1949 when its People’s Republic was inaugurated, is now declared the country with the “smartest schoolkids in the World” according to the same survey.

                What does China have that has allowed it to achieve such astounding progress in the short span of 70 years? Where has the Philippines failed that has caused its decline from being second to the top in Asia to one of the worst performers in that same seventy years?

                Last December 6, 2019 upon the invitation of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, I attended the Thematic Briefing with the PD-Laban, by H.E. Wang Ning of the standing committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on the Modernization of China’s System and Capacity for Governance.

Herman T. Laurel and Rod Kapunan at Thematic Briefing of H.E. Wang Ning, member of the CPC Beijing Standing Committee, On Modernization of China’s System and Capacity for Governance

                It was a three-hour session with a third of the time devoted to rituals of the ruling party, PDP-Laban, and its party allies conveying formal greetings and party leader Sen. Koko Pimentel doing the honors. I was a founding member of the PDP but have kept a distance from partisanship for decades now.

H.E. Ambassador Huang Xilian of the People’s Republic of China, the brand new representative who presents a warm and very sociable personality just right for the second phase of the “Golden Age” of PHL-China relations, spoke of the “sharing experiences of governance” between the ruling parties of China and the Philippines.

                H. E. Wang Ning is an impressive figure with impressive credentials as a member of the Standing Committee of the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee, reported on the results of the 19th Central Committee plenum on the updating of the governance system of China and Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Thematic Briefing of H.E. Wang Ning, member of the CPC Beijing Standing Committee, On Modernization of China’s System and Capacity for Governance

                The truth, however, is that one cannot comprehend the enormity of the subject matter in an hour and a half talk. At the end of H.E. Wang Ning’s presentation Wilson Lee Flores of the Philippine Star asked one of the two questions that was raised before time ran out on the event.

                Wilson Lee Flores’ question was about enhancement of cooperation between the two countries. I was prodded by one of the staffers to ask too, and I raised a key question from the Fourth Plenum that had been reported by the international media and highlighted by Xinhua.

                It was about President Xi Jinping’s comment during a November 3, 2019 inspection tour of a Shanghai community’s civic center, describing China’s democracy as a “whole-process democracy”. My question, “Are there details and discussions on the ‘whole-process’ democracy that we can study”.

                I prefaced my question with the point that Western Civilization had contributed “electoral democracy” as the pinnacle of democracy, but China’s “people’s democracy” seems to have performed better in the last two decades.

                It is indeed a question that I knew could not be adequately answered in a few minutes, I just wanted to demonstrate to the audience that “democracy” is more complex than just “elections” which I said in my preface seems to have failed Filipinos time and again.

                After his considerable detailed explanation H.E. Wang Ning said, “It is best that someday you visit China and observe the National People’s Congress processes to understand the ‘whole-process democracy’”.

                At the end of the event as the audience stood for small chats Wilson Lee Flores asked me more about this “whole-process democracy”. I said I had my theory, and its consists of these elements:

                First, the Communist Party of China has a “scientific theory” of man and society upon which its bases all its plans and programs to uplift the ideal of the Party – goal of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”; thus, economic and technological development at the forefront.

                Second, comprehensive consultations down to the grassroots level. President Xi in his Shanghai inspection tour expressed as Xinhua News Agency reports “… all major legislative decisions are made after going through procedures and democratic deliberations” – in other words, exhaustive consultations.

                I added a third which I asked Wilson Lee Flores to guess and he waited with bated breathe for the answer. I said, Deng Xiaoping’s dictum “Cross the river while feeling the stones” – in other words, watch out for pitfalls along the way towards implementation of plans and learn from mistakes.

                China’s ruling party and government has grassroots elections to ensure they have an ear very close to the ground, but there is a scientific theory that guides the overall direction of society, all these converge in the National People’s Congress.

The National People’s Congress is the largest parliamentary body in the world with 2,980 members as of 2018, approving governance plans formulated through the “whole-process democracy” over the five years past and moving on to the next five years.

But I have to spend some months in China to follow that process in action, from the grassroots elections, to the village and municipal planning meetings, to the party evaluations, to the review of government and party performance cadres by the Discipline Committees, to the final approvals of 5-year programs at the National People’s Congress.

Someday, a team from the Philippines should be organized to take on the invitation of H.E. Wang Ning to observe the “whole-process democracy”.

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