The Communist Party of China will have a new leadership lineup next year. In China, a CPC leadership reshuffle can almost determine all personnel changes in and composition of central government institutions. The last plenum of the 18th CPC National Congress, to be held later this month, will thus be very important.
Sensitive Western media haven’t shown much interest in the event though. Even they do, they have focused on potential personnel changes. This is no surprise, because many media observers stationed long enough in Beijing believe the last CPC National Congress plenum before each leadership reshuffle is almost always devoid of surprises. The quiet prior to dramatic change of guards is more or less like that in 100-meter races before the starting pistol is fired. Therefore, people tend to assume such a plenum will be more about fulfilling a formality, the documents it passes can hardly be substantial. The core documents the past four 6th plenums produced were respectively the decision to promote cultural development, build harmonious society, improve work style, and upgrade social morale.
This 6th plenum, however, will absolutely not be an ignorable political showpiece. Instead, it will inevitably make a difference with rich, substantive contents. My judgment is based on two considerations: First, this meeting will make new rules on intra-party political life and revise rules on intra-party supervision, which will certainly involve participating CPC officials’ comprehensive evaluation of the Xi Jinping-led party leadership’s performance in the past four years, the anti-corruption campaign in particular. As the campaign enters the stage of prosecution and court trial, people naturally begin to shift their eyes onto long-term mechanisms.
Xi Jinping made two impressive remarks at the beginning of this round of the anti-corruption campaign. One was to “lock corruption into the cage of systems” the other was to “make leading officials ‘dare not’, ‘cannot’ and ‘do not want’ to engage in corruption”. Wang Qishan, Xi’s right-hand man in anti-graft endeavors, also pledged at the time to “win time for the establishment of anti-corruption mechanisms with heavy blows.” Obviously, through the blizzard of rectification moves, and harsh punishments meted out for corrupt elements, the political biosphere inside the CPC has more or less been purified, public indignation at corruption has also gradually shifted to anticipation for durable anti-graft mechanisms. Coming up with rules and regulations reflecting both rigid restraint and strict oversight has become a matter of course.
Another, more important, reason for my belief that the upcoming plenum will show substance is that it has become a pressing need to have every member and organization of the CPC share common ideals and abide by its disciplines. Such an imperative has to do not only with the CPC’s present state, but also with the tremendous pressures from China’s stagnating economy and rising contradictions in society. Behind the downward trend in the economy is the reality that, in the process of restructuring the economy, reducing surplus production capacity, guaranteeing investment levels at home and abroad, and maintaining basic balance between import and export, not only are the indices hard to accomplish, but there have been signs of financial risks. Severe challenges have also arisen in maneuvering regulated, healthy urbanization, rapid, large-scale poverty alleviation, resolving unemployment and hidden unemployment, harnessing environmental pollution, ensuring food and drug safety as well as public security, especially such problems as rampant telecommunications scams involving personal financial information. Such challenges combine the historical contradictions accumulated since the beginning of reform and opening up and new, recent contradictions. These are the logical outcomes of the country’s incremental reforms, as well as severe tests for Chinese public administration.
Fortunately, the CPC is a party of nearly 90 million and a stunning total of 4.36 million grassroots organizations. With members accounting for nearly 10 percent of Chinese above age 18, and cells across the country from each village and urban neighborhood to state organ, state and private firm — even foreign companies with Chinese staff, the Chinese government does not have to worry much about its policies being implemented.
Some may suspect this is the CPC replacing government functions. But judging from the extensive and strict nature of CPC organizations, and from its 67 years of experiences in leadership role, the party has developed quasi-government capacities for governing, organizing, integrating Chinese society.
The essence of the upcoming CPC plenum and the two documents to be endorsed will be an intra-CPC general mobilization in the face of practical difficulties.