Democracy “with Chinese characteristics”? – Analysis of the ontological and political challenge China poses for the evolution of democracy

Research Paper by Laia Comerma Calatayud



What exactly is democracy ‘with Chinese characteristics’?

Against the traditional understanding of “democracy”, China claims to have put in place a system of democracy “with Chinese characteristics”. This paper argues that this poses a double challenge to Western democracy: first, conceptual or ontological, by challenging the claim to universality of traditional democracy and arguing there are multiple models none of which is superior to the other, but instead more fitting to a particular reality; and second, political, to the democratic “health” of Western political systems, through a variety of tools ranging from soft power to cyberattacks. The paper discusses the historical origins of democracy with Chinese characteristics, proceeding then to present the set of tools that the European Union has at its disposal to counter the democratic challenge that China poses. It concludes with a set of recommendations that would equip the EU and its member states to better deal with the complexities of China and its political system.


About the author

Laia Comerma is a PhD candidate at the Pompeu Fabra University and a predoctoral research fellow at the Barcelona Institute for International Studies. Her PhD dissertation, “The Influence of the EU–China Economic Relationship towards the reconfiguration of the Economic Regime of Global Governance”, digs deeper on the perspective of norms, rules and institutions that structure the foreign policy relation of economic cooperation between China and the European Union and how they are being reformed due to their interaction in the fields of investment, trade, and finance. She has published on the future of EU-China relations, Chinese influence in the EU, Chinese democracy and the Belt and Road Initiative. Her research fields of interest are foreign policy analysis, Chinese foreign policy, EU foreign policy, and EU–China cooperation.

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