China has promulgated five-year plans since 1953 and experienced a fast growth rate of 9.2 percent in the First Five-Year Plan period (1953-57). The plans were suspended for political reasons for several years and were resumed in 1981 with the Sixth Five-Year Plan. The full name for the plan was also changed from Five-Year Plan for National Economy to Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development in 1981 and in 2006, it was formally changed again to Five Year Guideline for National Economic and Social Development. The five-year guidelines have become a comprehensive and guiding roadmap for national economic and social development and a strategic blueprint for modernization with Chinese characteristics. The Chinese economy has maintained high growth rates, in part, thanks to the five-year plans.
China is not alone in achieving fast economic growth by implementing five-year plans. Of the world's top 20 countries that enjoyed the fastest economic growth from 1980-2005, 13 had implemented five-year or four-year plans. Of the top 10, eight had five-year plans. After the recent global financial crisis, only three of the G20 countries, namely China, India and Indonesia, have seen economic growth — and all three have five-year plans in action. Five-year plans have helped create China's economic miracle.
From ideas to implementation, creating a five-year plan involves many great minds. It's a complicated, sometimes drawn out process with thorough procedures — and it should be, since each plan plots the course China will take in its social and economic development over the next five years.
The first step in making the 12th Five-Year Plan was a mid-term review of the 11th Five-Year Plan. In the second half of 2008, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) entrusted the Center for China Study of Tsinghua University, the Development Research Center of the State Council and the World Bank Office, Beijing, with the review work. Each of the three then wrote an independent report. At the end of December, 2008, the NDRC reported the three organizations' findings, plus the results of an opinion poll conducted by the State Information Center and the National Bureau of Statistics, to the State Council. The mid-term review report of Tsinghua University's Center for China Study says: Economic growth targets were attained in advance; social development progressed smoothly; improvements were made to address resource and environmental issues, but challenges and problems remain; and economic restructuring still lags. But overall, the implementation has run smoothly.
The second step was initiated at the end of 2008. The NDRC selected more than 20 issues covering hot topics of social and economic development and major concerns of people, such as policies on attracting foreign investment and income distribution, and then organized experts, scholars and entrepreneurs to brainstorm them. Thousands of political and economic experts worked together for an entire year to research the following questions: What is to be the guideline of the 12th Five-Year Plan? How will China's economy and society develop during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-15)? It's the largest policy consulting and research activity conducted anywhere in the world.
The third step involved introducing the guideline for the plan. Earlier in 2010, top leaders' speeches on several occasions revealed that the 12th Five-Year Plan would focus on changing the economic development model.
The fourth step was to develop a consultative draft for the plan.. Various ideas and suggestions were collected and included in the consultative draft. A special expert committee, consisting of more than 50 members, deliberated on the consultative draft and advised the drafting team several times. The expert committee, established in October 2005, is devoted to building the country's economic and social development plans. The process is often conducted through debating and opinion gathering.
The fifth step involved discussion of the consultative draft at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in October 2010. More opinions and advice were collected at the meeting.
The sixth step was to draft the final plan. Based on the discussions and suggestions, a draft plan was completed by the start of 2011.
The seventh step involved discussion of details of the draft in January 2011 by the expert committee
The eighth step took place in January and February when Premier Wen Jiabao collected opinions from all levels of society.
The ninth and final step occurs in March 2011 when the draft will be submitted for deliberation to the annual session of the National People's Congress. If the draft is approved by the NPC, the State Council will promulgate and then implement the plan.
The whole process of building the 12th Five-Year Plan reflects the Central Government's strategic decisions as well as local governments' desire for economic growth and social development. All these different interests, desires and opinions converge to form a consensus about China's future. The process is a proof that China has formed its own democratic, institutionalized procedures for public decision-making.
Hu Angang is Director of the Center for China Study of Tsinghua University.