President Xi Jinping's claim that alternative political systems, such as multiparty democracy, were tried and failed in China set off an internet debate yesterday, with some people dismissing the remarks as an excuse for retaining power.
Xi told an audience at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, that China needed to follow a path that suited its own reality, as other political systems have proved unsuccessful since the end of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and the formation of the Chinese republic in its wake.
"Constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentary or multiparty systems and a presidential government were all deliberated and tried, but nothing really worked," Xi said. "Finally, China took the path of socialism. Admittedly in the process of building socialism we have had successes, but also made mistakes."
Xi said that not until late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping launched his "socialism with Chinese characteristics" in the early 1980s did China find "our path and achieve success".
Some internet users were disappointed, arguing that democracy was never given a fair chance and that socialism was chosen by a small group of Communist Party leaders.
"Have we really tried other forms of government?" one said. "That's what textbooks have been saying, but none of the people around me agree."
Others argued that socialism was a practical choice for a nation undergoing massive changes.
"Actually what he said was right," another internet user said. "There have been revolutions in the past and there are multiparty systems in parts of China, like … Taiwan, but the motherland comes out the strongest."
China's constitution enshrines the Communist Party's long-term "leading" role in government, although it allows the existence of various other political parties under what is calls a "multi-party co-operation system". But all are subservient to the Communist Party.
Jin Canrong , a professor at Renmin University's school of international relations, said Xi's remarks showed a desire to prove the one-party system was a legacy of history.
"It was akin to saying 'don't criticise us for our system now. It was left behind by former leaders and has endured with time. It wasn't man-made, so it cannot be unchallenged'," he said.
Jin said Xi's assertion that China had given other political systems a chance was debatable and that the republic between 1911 and 1949 was almost bound to amid the turmoil of the era.
Jia Qingguo, an international relations professor at Peking University, agreed with Xi.
"The political system of the Republic of China was democracy," Jia said. "People's lives were indeed miserable, but China did give democracy a chance."
Xi also said in his speech that China had a long, tortured past fraught with foreign invasions. Now that the nation's destiny was back in its own hands, the Chinese people wanted peace and opposed war, which explained China's non-interventionist foreign policy, he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters