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China

Why China cares about the label of democracy

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Pro Chinese democracy activists holds banners during a China Democracy Party demonstration at Times Square, New York City, United States, 13 March 2021 (Photo: Reuters/Ron Adar)

Author: Xunchao Zhang, University of Wisconsin-Madison

If you access any Chinese state media or pro-state social media published in late 2021, you will be bombarded with attacks on US President Joe Biden’s ‘Summit for Democracy’ and relentless insistence that China is the world’s largest democracy. Beyond the fear of geopolitical containment, it is puzzling why China cared about Biden’s democracy summit.

It is not initially clear why China would insist on being a democracy when claiming democratic status risks falling into a rhetorical trap.

While most Western media dismisses China’s claim to democracy as simply a cynical propaganda ploy, some ‘democratisation optimists’ in the West have suggested that China’s reaction to Biden’s summit shows China’s commitment to some vague notion of eventual democratisation. These observations miss the point. China’s reaction to the summit — clinging onto the concept of democracy — largely reflects a lack of a conceptual alternative, geopolitical fear and some genuine domestic perception that the country is democratic.

The most important problem facing China is a lack of alternative concepts to legitimise the state. Although contemporary China is the heir to a socialist revolution, beyond nostalgic leftist circles, orthodox Marxism cannot capture the public imagination as an alternative to liberal democracy.

Granted, there is growing intellectual interest in critiques of democracy such as meritocracy and the Schmittian notion of self-justifying authoritarian state power. Eric Li is perhaps the most eloquent critic of democracy in China offering universal critiques of liberal democracy, such as institutional vulnerability to being captured by elites and the tendency to be gridlocked in unhealthy partisanship and identity politics. Beyond critiques, there are also alternative visions being offered, such as by Daniel Bell who often characterises China as an examination-based meritocracy rather than electoral democracy.

Yet, so far, none of the alternative concepts of legitimisation have gained official endorsement. You will not find meritocracy or citation of Carl Schmitt in the plethora of documents produced by China Communist Party plenums. These alternative concepts are rare sights even in the less rigid Chinese media propaganda targeting foreign audiences.

There are also geopolitical concerns. Embracing any legitimisation concept other than democracy by China, even one that is not explicitly anti-democratic, may unite the Western world in a democratic alliance against China. There are anti-democratic leaders and anti-democratic movements all over the world, usually referred to as ‘populists’, who do not have a systematic anti-democratic ideology. Most of these populists also take up anti-China foreign policy positions. Some even treat China as a scapegoat for their domestic grievances. There is little chance for anti-democratic solidarity between China and the international populist right.

It is advantageous for Beijing to cling to the democratic label to avoid contributing to the formation of a united Western democratic coalition against China. Plenty of people in China genuinely believe their country is democratic. One historical reason behind this is the presence of so-called ‘people-oriented (minben)’ thought in traditional Chinese political culture, which emphasises governance ‘for the people’, rather than government ‘by the people’. Mencius outlined the classic Confucian ideal of state–society relations, under which ‘the people come first, the state comes second, [and] the ruler comes last’.

Yet a state that works for the benefit of the people is not necessarily democratic. People-oriented governance often means a paternalistic but responsive form of authoritarianism. Elites and the public in China often use performance metrics, rather than procedural and institutional criteria, to measure how legitimate or ‘democratic’ the state is. These performance metrics include economic growth and also Beijing’s ability to avenge China’s century of humiliation and reclaim China’s great power status.

The primacy of performance metrics over procedural ones is also reflected in survey data. Pollsters repeatedly find that a majority of Chinese respondents consider China a democracy. It would be self-deceiving for Western observers to dismiss these survey results as a simple reflection of public quiescence under state pressure. A more nuanced interpretation is that ‘democracy’ is simply what the public calls a state…

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A Timeline of EU-China Relations Post-2024 European Elections

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EU-China relations are crucial in global business, with geopolitical shifts and technological competition shaping the dynamic. The recent EU Parliament elections have brought a political realignment, leading to a more assertive stance towards China. Strategic discussions and new working groups aim to navigate the evolving relationship.


EU-China relations play a crucial role in the global business landscape. The current circumstances, marked by geopolitical shifts, economic interdependence, and technological competition, contribute to the volatility and frequent adjustments in this relationship. In this timeline, we aim to capture key milestones and developments that shape EU-China ties.

The European Parliament elections, held between June 6 and June 9, 2024, have ushered in a new era for EU-China relations. The election results revealed a significant shift in the political landscape, with centrist parties losing ground to far-right groups like the Identity and Democracy (ID) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). This political realignment is poised to influence the EU’s approach to China, introducing more varied and potentially conflicting perspectives on policy.

Traditionally, the EU has maintained a cautious stance toward China, epitomized by the 2019 publication of the EU-China Strategic Outlook, which framed the relationship as one of “partnership, competition, and systemic rivalry.” This tripartite approach was later reiterated in the European Council’s Conclusion on China. However, the narrative toward China has taken a decisive turn with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s speech delivered on March 30, 2023. This speech marked a shift towards a more assertive stance, further strengthened by the release of the European Economic Security Strategy in June of the same year.

In the aftermath of the 2024 elections, the increased fragmentation within the EU Parliament suggests a more complex and uncertain path to forming a cohesive strategy toward China. This uncertainty poses challenges for European companies conducting business with China, as well as Chinese and global businesses operating in Europe, who must now navigate a more unpredictable regulatory environment.

Amid these developments, the Chinese government is keenly observing the evolving dynamics within the EU. China aims to cultivate allies within the European bloc, and this intent was evident during President Xi Jinping’s recent European tour, which included official visits to France, Serbia, and Hungary. During his visit, President Xi reiterated the EU’s significance as China’s major trading partner.

As the new EU Parliament begins its work, strategic discussions have been underway to address key issues, including the EU’s technological and strategic autonomy. To manage different views and promote collaboration on shared interests with China, new cross-regional working groups have been established. These groups are focusing on sectors such as agriculture, aviation, artificial intelligence, energy, and finance, aiming to enhance resilience and foster dialogue.

In this article, we present a timeline of EU-China relations following the EU Parliament elections, reflecting the complexities and opportunities presented by this new chapter in bilateral relations.

This article is republished from China Briefing. Read the rest of the original article.

China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at china@dezshira.com.

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Economic Update: Consumption and Trade in China See Strong Recovery Despite Decrease in Industrial Output by May 2024

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Industrial output growth in China has slowed, with robust performance in some manufacturing sectors but an increase in consumption driven by services, retail sales, and imports. Despite a slowdown, equipment manufacturing has been crucial in stabilizing overall industrial growth. Certain high-tech and electronic equipment manufacturing sectors have shown strong performance, while the automobile manufacturing sector has decelerated due to falling domestic demand.


The data indicates a slowdown in industrial output growth, despite some manufacturing sectors still showing robust performance. In contrast, consumption is on the rise, driven by growth in services, retail sales, and imports. The uptick in these areas suggests a strengthening of domestic demand, spurred by a stabilizing global economic situation and the boost from the Labor Day Holiday at the beginning of May.

China’s foreign trade also continued to show marked improvement, reflecting the country’s strong export capabilities and increasing imports.

Year-on-year growth in China’s industrial sector slowed in May from the previous month but remained relatively strong. Total industrial value-added output grew by 5.6 percent year-on-year in May, a month-on-month increase of 0.3 percent but a deceleration from 6.7 percent year-on-year growth recorded in April. Value-added output of the manufacturing industry grew 6 percent year-on-year, a deceleration from the 7.5 percent year-on-year in April.

According to NBS spokesperson Liu Aihua, equipment manufacturing played a crucial role in stabilizing overall industrial growth. The sector’s added value increased by 7.5 percent from the previous year, contributing 2.6 percentage points to the growth of all industries above the designated size and accounting for 45.7 percent of the total growth. Within this sector:

Certain high-tech and electronic equipment manufacturing sectors exhibited particularly strong performance:

However, the automobile manufacturing sector decelerated significantly from a 16.3 percent year-on-year jump in April to 7.6 percent year-on-year growth in May, possibly due to falling domestic demand.

This article is republished from China Briefing. Read the rest of the original article.

China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at china@dezshira.com.

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Outlook for China’s Wine Market: Current Trends and Opportunities

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China’s wine market faces challenges like declining consumption and imports, but remains resilient. Adapting to consumer preferences, focusing on quality and sustainability, and using digital platforms for sales are key strategies. Despite setbacks, the market is promising for foreign producers.


Despite challenges such as declining consumption and import figures, China’s wine market remains resilient and promising. Strategic adaptation to evolving consumer preferences, emphasis on quality and sustainability, and leveraging digital platforms for sales are pivotal strategies for success in this dynamic and competitive landscape.

In recent years, China’s wine market has faced significant challenges marked by declines in key metrics such as consumption, imports, and domestic production. These difficulties were further compounded by the disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these setbacks, the market retains its allure, presenting opportunities for foreign wine producers and exporters who are willing to adapt and strategically engage.

As consumer preferences evolve and government policies increasingly emphasize quality and sustainability, understanding these complexities becomes crucial for stakeholders navigating China’s evolving wine landscape. By staying attuned to shifting trends and regulatory developments, stakeholders can position themselves effectively to capitalize on the market’s enduring potential.

The wine sector in China has experienced dramatic shifts over the last two decades, initially reflecting rapid growth and then gradually declining. In the early 2000s, China emerged as a lucrative market for global wineries seeking expansion due to soaring wine imports driven by rising consumer wealth and the perception of wine as a symbol of sophistication. However, per capita consumption peaked around 2012, and imports have since plateaued, with recent years showing significant market contraction. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these challenges, particularly affecting wine sales due to its association with social gatherings, which were restricted during lockdowns.

Following this trend, in 2023, China saw a significant decline in wine consumption, with a 24.7 percent decrease compared to 2022. According to the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), China’s wine consumption has been falling since 2018, averaging a loss of 2 million hectoliters annually.

Nevertheless, China remains the ninth-largest wine-consuming nation worldwide.

Looking forward to 2024, China’s wine market is poised for dynamic activity, delineated primarily by consumption settings: at-home and out-of-home. According to Statista, revenue from wine sales in supermarkets and convenience stores (at-home) is forecast to reach US$9.7 billion. In contrast, revenue generated from wine consumed in restaurants and bars (out-of-home) is expected to be substantially higher, totaling US$17.2 billion. This projects the total revenue from the wine market to reach US$26.8 billion by the end of 2024.

This article is republished from China Briefing. Read the rest of the original article.

China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at china@dezshira.com.

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