Singaporean politician Lee Kuan Yew once made a statement that all politicians may find surprising, yet have to agree to some extent: Those who claim they know politics should see a psychiatrist.
Not long ago, talking about his personal experience since receiving the “relay baton” of national leadership more than one year ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping confessed he has found “more difficulties than expected, but better outcomes than expected.”
Both politicians’ remarks touched upon a characteristic of national political ecosystem – its volatility and the degree of unpredictability that ensues. Looking back on the political changes that have taken place since Xi and his team assumed office, there indeed have been plenty of unexpected developments. Politically, their successive bold moves have brought stimuli to the Chinese society, which had appeared to be in a state of lassitude, as well as fresh shocks and vitality to China’s ruling party, which has been perplexed by complicated development topics and pestered by corruption scandals.
The first major political move of the “Xi Central” (the Chinese public’s shorthand for the Xi-led ruling party and the central government) was launching an “education campaign” within the ruling party meant mainly to root out formalism and extravagance. Public opinion didn’t take it seriously in the beginning, assuming that it would be another round of political posturing. But facts have convinced people that this was merely a prelude to a major storm, which laid the groundwork for the forceful measures aimed at correcting styles of work and stamping out corruption that have followed. The truly “major move” has been the unequivocal crackdown on corruption. Both minor corrupt elements, whom the Chinese address as “flies”, and “tigers” in high offices are subject to resolute precision strikes. Nearly 20 ministerial-level officials have been dismissed for corruption, some of whom were members of State Council meetings. In part of December 2013, the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party announced the investigation of a ministerial-level official every other day. The Commission worked harder after the lunar new year holidays, creating the new record of bringing down two vice-minister-level officials in 14 hours.
The above actions have also ignited chain reactions to rein in unhealthy practices society-wide. The crackdown on corruption in the public offices inevitably leads to the purification of social environment, such as the campaign against the porn industry. Which preserves society’s moral bottom-line, and is at the same time an extension of the authorities’ own house-cleaning. Not only pornography, gambling and drug abuse have been targeted in the “cleansing”, the extravagant and showy style of the nouveau riche has also run into stonewall. What is noteworthy is that while such moves have drawn high acclaims from the public, they have at the same time effectively established the new government’s authority.
Reform remains the biggest political imperative in present-day China. In order to deepen reforms, the CPC central committee has convened a special plenum. Two lines in the plenum’s communiqué deserve particular attention. One is “let the market play a decisive role in the distribution of resources”. This is targeted at the confusions and misgivings surrounding the goals of and approaches to reforms in China. Because there had been deviations in previous reforms targeted at building a market economy. The previous government had used 4 trillion yuan of investment and more than 10 trillion yuan of loans to help State firms cope with the international financial crisis, and saw some positive outcomes. Some Chinese scholars thus portray this expedient response as a “Chinese model”, completely ignoring its serous negative consequences – considerably postponing the transformation of our mode of growth.
Another important line in the communiqué was “promote the modernization of state governance system and capabilities”. On one hand, this shows the CPC leadership acknowledges the country’s backwardness in state governance system, or decision planning and implementation, which is evident in some public functionaries’ insensitiveness and incompetence. On the other hand, it’s a signal that the “Xi Central” has seen a potential threat to state power – the departmentalization of state administrative power, the liquidation of departmental power, and the legalization of interest acquisition. Obviously no national leader of a sane mind would allow such a phenomenon to persist, because it will not only result in the fragmentation and collapse of China’s comprehensive reforms, but also fundamentally disintegrate the unity of state authority as well as its effective operation.
One can make general predictions about the future developments in Chinese politics based on the aforesaid moves in the past year. The hated acts of corruption will be subject to more severe and broader crackdown and prevention. Since the anti-graft campaign has further exposed loopholes in various systems, the targets of reforms in those systems have also become clearer. The mutual complementariness between anti-corruption moves and systematic reforms also appears more conspicuous. Similarly, the fight against corruption is closely related to that against invested interests and business monopoly. The Chinese public is thus increasingly aware that only through realizing fair powers, fair opportunities, and fair rules, can they benefit from the fruit of reform and development. It is thus logical that “anti-corruption” and “fairness” will be the most frequently used words in Chinese political life.
Qin Xiaoying is a Research Scholar with the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies.