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China doesn’t need democracy, it needs a strong leader like Xi Jinping

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Will Donald Trump’s presidential legacy reflect the success or failure of American democracy? Pessimists can argue that the election of such a polarising figure who routinely ignores established norms and espouses the nation’s worst racist, sexist, and xenophobic impulses is indicative of the death of American democracy.

Optimists can argue instead that Trump’s degradation of democratic norms will lead Americans to appreciate and hold on to them more dearly in his wake. It is unclear even now which outcome is more likely, but it is difficult to find the state of the nation encouraging today.

Even after the tenuous cessation of a 35-day shutdown, the government, and seemingly the nation as whole, is still divided, as much over policy as it is over ideals for its future.

China lacks such division over government policy, for obvious reasons; Xi Jinping’s hold over China is so strong and disciplined that there is virtually no acceptable room for debate or venue to voice dissent. Herein lies another key difference between the US and China, and between the democratic and the authoritarian: however much Trump may be despised by a significant portion of the American public, they are at least able to track, analyse and assess how it was that he came to power. In China, however, Xi’s rise is just as big a question mark to Chinese citizens as it is to foreign observers.

Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to meet nearly every Chinese leader since the 1930s (with the exception of Mao Zedong), including Chiang Kai-shek, Wang Jingwei, and more contemporary figures such as Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin and Xi. As individuals, they frequently came off as kind, caring and intelligent. From afar, as I watched them govern, I would view them in a different light, as........

© South China Morning Post