李世默：这个百年，这个党最后更新: 2020-06-15 12:48:44
PARTY OF THE CENTURY
THE THIRD PLENUM BEGINS THE THIRD THIRTY-YEARS
By: Eric X. Li
In November 2013, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held its much-anticipated Third Plenum of the Eighteenth Congress (the Third Plenum). Each third plenum usually sets the policy agenda for a new administration. Some project much longer-term impacts. More than 30 years ago, Deng Xiaoping famously launched his ground breaking economic reforms at the third plenum of the party’s eleventh congress. That meeting changed the trajectory of China and the world at large. After the transfer of power to a new generation of leaders at the Eighteenth Party Congress in 2012, this Third Plenum offers the world the most concrete look at how General Secretary Xi Jinping plans to lead the world’s most significant ascending power.
Most analyses have focused on the wide-ranging economic reform agenda. To be sure, the economic policy measures announced are more sweeping than most people expected and, if implemented to any significant extent, are likely to usher in yet another era of sustained economic growth. They include initiatives that will drastically change the structure of the Chinese economy, such as hybrid ownership of state companies, reduced regulatory hurdles for commercial enterprises, greater control and transferability of land for rural residents, and liberalization of the financial sector, to name just a few.
Yet, the common narrative is that, just like reformers in the past, China’s new leadership has put forth substantial economic reforms but, again, held its ground, or even backtracked, on much hoped for political reforms. It is true that the centrality of the party’s leadership has been strengthened, not loosened. As a result, some have characterized it as “turning right on economics and left on politics”.
But such views are misplaced. The Third Plenum has launched significant, and in some cases unprecedented, political reforms that will fundamentally alter how the world’s largest nation is governed.
These institutional reformulations are taking place in three critical dimensions: substantial re-engineering of the relationship between central and local authorities, unprecedented restructuring of the party’s disciplinary inspection regime and the state’s legal system, and the most significant reorganization at the highest level of decision-making mechanism in the history of the People’s Republic that will redefine the relationship between the party and the state.
For centuries, one of the most vexing political problems of imperial China was the balance of power between central and local authorities. Many successes and failures of governance were direct results of how this relationship was managed. A healthy balance underwrote long periods of prosperity and stability. The opposite led to coups and counter-coups and sometimes the demise of dynasties.
Contemporary China is no exception. In its 64-year history, the party’s governance model in terms of central and local relations has gone through at least three phases. The first was Soviet-styled centralization between 1949 and 1956. Driven by the need to consolidate the newly established political power and resuscitate a long paralyzed and disparate economy, the party imported the model from the Soviet Union in which virtually all powers were centralized in Beijing. However, beginning in the late 1950’s, China’s founding leader Mao Zedong changed course and led the nation through a long period of devolution of power. He launched this dramatic turn-around with the publication of one of his most important treatises on Chinese governance, “On the Ten Imperative Relations”, in 1956. In it, Mao proposed an across-the-board decentralization of power from Beijing to provincial and local governments. According to him, such devolution was urgently needed to release the productive forces of the economy and revitalize local political initiative. This process intensified through the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970’s when tax collection, control of state owned enterprises, and even the management structure of the military were devolved to regional levels. The remnants of that period continued in the first phase of Deng Xiaoping’s reform era. In the eighties, the central government was at times so strapped for cash that it had to demand financial support from provincial capitals. Many characterize Mao as the ultimate centralizer of political power. Such views are gross over-simplifications.
It was not until the early 1990’s when the party began to rebalance this critical relationship between the central and the regional. Former Premier Zhu Rongji formalized this process in 1994 by shifting taxing authority back to Beijing. However, nearly three decades of decentralization was difficult to reverse. By the time of the Third Plenum, only half of the central government’s 20 trillion RMB annual tax collection was under the fiscal budget. The single standardized national budget that would unify revenue and spending announced in the Third Plenum is a most impactful re-engineering of the core of Chinese political governance in decades. Under this new system, the central government will assume nearly full authority on national spending. Administrative responsibilities are to be clearly delineated between Beijing and regional and local governments. Rules on transfer payments will be standardized. Direct monitoring and management of local government debts are now vested in central government ministries.
In the coming decade, many of these changes will prove critical to China’s long-term development blueprint. The new tax revenue management system and debt control mechanism will address the issues arisen from misallocation of resources driven by short-term and localized economic targets. With this rebalancing of power, the central government is now able to implement policies on a nationwide basis in pursuit of cross-generational national strategies. Urbanization tops the list. China plans to urbanize 13 million people a year over the next 20 years. The rural-urban divide and the large newly urbanized migrant population in limbo have long been persistent problems in China’s development model. By doubling its control over the purse string, Beijing will be able to manage allocation of national resources to expand the provision of public goods such as healthcare, welfare, and education that are pre-requisites for realizing the aggressive urbanization goals for the next phase.
The most widely reported item put forth at the Third Plenum was the principle that the market should be allowed to exercise a decisive force in the allocation of economic resources. Some have said that the rebalancing of political power to the center runs counter to that stated goal. But this assessment is contrary to realities on the ground. After more than thirty years of rapid economic development under a relatively decentralized framework, local protectionism and the lack of standardized rules that govern commercial activities are now hampering the further development of China’s market economy. Many companies use their alliances with local governments to block entry by competitors from other regions by political means. Disparate rules and regulations across provinces make it difficult for companies to operate outside their home territories. The centralization policies launched by the Third Plenum, not dissimilar to the waves of federalization during America’s industrialization process that propelled inter-state commerce, will drive the further scaling up of China’s vibrant market economy. In addition, positive externalities may also result from this trend. Environmental protection and food safety, for examples, will greatly benefit from the national standardization and enforcement of rules and regulations.
DISCIPLINE AND THE LAW
Widespread official corruption is a major challenge facing contemporary China’s political governance. Many have named corruption as the Achilles’ heel of a political system that has otherwise achieved undeniable successes. One of the main reasons for the party’s inability to contain corruption has been the existence of fundamental flaws in the intra-party discipline inspection regime and the state’s legal system.
How to check internal abuse of power has been a central issue for the CCP at the earliest stage of its development. The first internal inspection agency, then called the Central Inspection Commission, was established in 1927 when the party was barely six years old and 22 years before it actually gained political power. The system has gone through periods of irrelevance and effectiveness. It fell to virtual disuse during the Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping re-established the current incarnation of the regime, called Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC), at the all-important third plenum of the eleventh party congress in 1978.
From its origin in 1927 to the present, the party used the matrix structure borrowed from the Soviet Communist Party’s internal inspection organization. In name, the Discipline Inspection Commission (DIC) at each level of government is under the DIC of the next highest level of government, and ultimately all under the CDIC. But in practice, they are appointed by and work under the party committee of the same level. For instance, the highest official of a county is the county party committee secretary. The head of the Discipline Inspection Commission of the county serves on that party committee under the authority of the party secretary and is almost always of a lower rank to him in the party’s hierarchy. Further more, almost all personnel, financial management, compensation and welfare of each DIC are controlled by the parallel party committee. This leads to the situation in which the person in charge of checking official corruption in a particular jurisdiction is under the influence and authority of, and sometimes owes his career to, the head of the officialdom he is tasked to discipline. This shortcoming might not have been so obvious when the governance system was relatively simple. But with the dramatic increase in the complexities of the country’s political system and its society in general this structural flaw is proving to be crippling to the party’s ability to govern.
Bo Xilai, the disgraced party secretary of Chongqing, was a member of the Politburo, China’s highest ruling body. But the head of Chongqing’s Discipline Inspection Commission was not even a member of the Central Committee, which placed him at least two levels below in ranking to Bo. Needless to say, such a regime, while workable in punishing low-level offenses, is weak in checking abuse of power at higher levels.
An unprecedented restructuring of this system occurred at the Third Plenum. The decision-making mechanism of the regime has been extracted from the nearly sixty-year-old matrix structure and remade into a vertical agency apart from the party committee composition. The Discipline Inspection Commission at each level of government remains inside the party committee system but its functions are now independent of the party committee of that jurisdiction. Each DIC is being placed under the direct control of the DIC at the next highest level of government and ultimately under the Central Discipline Inspection Commission in Beijing. The CDIC will now have full authority over appointments of officials at all DIC’s at all levels nationwide. The initiation and investigation of all cases by a DIC are to be conducted autonomously from the parallel party committee and held accountable to the next highest DIC. As if to demonstrate the immediate effect of this restructuring, at the closing of the Third Plenum Beijing appointed a new head of the Shanghai Discipline Inspection Commission, an official from the capital.
To mirror the reform of the party’s internal inspection regime, the state’s legal system is being similarly restructured. The court systems at each jurisdiction will be held accountable not to its parallel government but to the next highest court. It is widely anticipated that the system will be further reformed to establish cross-jurisdictional courts, setting it further apart from local and regional authorities.
One cannot overstate the significance of these reforms to China’s future governance. It is the most qualitative change in the distribution and provision of power for the party in decades. China is an extremely large country with a highly complex governance mechanism. The introduction of an independent authority as a watchdog at each and every level of government is a dramatic move. If fully implemented, the new system will play a decisive role in curbing corruption and generally improve the efficacy of governance.
PARTY AND STATE
The Third Plenum’s most noticeable reorganization of political structure came with the establishment of the National Security Committee (NSC) and the Central Reform Leading Group (CRLG). Both are directly under the authority of the Politburo and its standing committee and, therefore, above the State Council (equivalent of the cabinet). A review of the historical context can help understand the importance of this development.
In 1949 when the party established the People’s Republic, it borrowed what was called the “three-carriages” model from the Soviet Union. Corresponding to the USSR’s Party Central Committee, the Supreme Soviet, and the Central Ministerial Conference, the CCP, in addition to its own party central committee, set up the National People’s Congress and the State Council. The former is the legislature let by a chairman and the latter is the cabinet run by the premier who is the head of government, and both are members of the Politburo’s standing committee. In recent decades, the General Secretary of the Party also serves as president who is the head of state. The “three carriages” are parallel in form. But the Constitution enshrines the centrality of the party’ s leadership of the whole nation.
This has created a level of institutional complexities that have periodically caused uncertainties in governance. The issue has been at times particularly acute in the relationship between the party and the State Council. Ever since the early days of the People’s Republic, periodical debates broke out about the degree of integration, or separation, between the party led by the Central Committee and its Politburo and the government run by the State Council. During the first 30 years under Mao, the “great helmsman” has been driven back and forth between being only the leader of the party while leaving the government to be run by separate institutions and asserting direct control over all national powers. Such institutional conflicts, combined with the varying characteristics of the personalities involved, were partially responsible for the disastrous Cultural Revolution.
Both constitutionally and practically, the party is the supreme political institution for the nation. Yet, the “three-carriages” governing model puts up a pretense of separation. This conceptual contradiction has remained a stubborn stumbling block in China’s political development. With the creation of the National Security Committee and the Central Reform Leading Group, the Third Plenum initiated the most significant departure from the old Soviet model. The party has now moved firmly to the front and center of political governance, further cementing its constitutional authority. The NSC’s responsibilities cover all aspects of China’s domestic and international security policies from the police force to the Foreign Ministry. The CRLG will spearhead the nation’s most strategic economic initiatives. Both are now under the firm control of the party’s Politburo. In a practical sense, the Chinese system has, in some respects, moved closer to the semi-presidential system employed by countries like France.
This brings China’s institutional conception closer to reality and will serve as an immensely stabilizing force in governance. It may also signal a potential political breakthrough. It is important to note that the idea of modern political parties was imported into China from the West more than a hundred years ago. But the CCP in essence is not the same as political parties in Western countries in which the establishment of the nation state came first and the parties materialized later to represent “parts” – as the term party means – of the population in the political system. What happened in modern China was the reverse. The party came into existence first and, after 28 years, it founded the People’s Republic. From day one, the CCP claimed to represent a plurality of the Chinese nation. That claim was checked by the party’s Marxist-Leninist heritage of being the vanguard of the proletariat.
However, as the party and the nation matured, the national dimension of its DNA has been prevailing. General Secretary Jiang Zemin began the articulation of this evolution with his “Theory of the Three Represents” more than ten years ago. It began the process of making the party represent cross sections of Chinese society and have since inducted new elements, including private business people, into the party ranks. In effect, like the centuries-old Mandarin class of the Chinese dynasties, the CCP is, and behaves as such, a governing organization, not a political party. Its claim of representation is of the entirety of the Chinese nation not certain sections of it, and its ranks are open to all who are qualified by merit. By formally ending the Soviet styled “three carriages” model and structurally infusing the party and government, the Third Plenum further advanced this process and marked an important inflection point for the party as a maturing governing institution that is both connected to China’s unique cultural heritage and unmistakably modern.
In the long run, China’s governance will likely be qualitatively different from the model currently employed by most countries in which multiple parties compete to represent different interest groups through elections. The CCP is evolving into a governing organization that would embody a plurality of Chinese society, not dissimilar to the centuries-old Mandarin class of the Chinese dynasties - although unmistakably modern. The future of Chinese political governance, then, will depend on the development of the CCP and its institutional capabilities to continue to adapt to a rapidly changing society.
THE THIRD THIRTY YEARS
When it comes to China, the term “political reform” has been ideologically hijacked. It is taken to mean Western styled democratization. Any changes that are not consistent with that end, no matter how significant, cannot be honored with the term “political reform”. Such views are immature, if not outright harmful, to the world’s understanding of China.
Many segregate the party's leadership of the largest nation in the world into two thirty-year periods: the first was between 1949 and 1979 under Mao; the second was between 1979 and now, which began with Deng's reforms. Some have characterized the second thirty-year period as a departure from or even a betrayal of the first. They are wrong. Although the first and second thirty years seemed to project starkly contrasting ideological outlooks, they are also symbiotic to each other. Without the national independence and the building of basic industrial and human infrastructures of a modern nation accomplished during the first thirty years under Mao, Deng’s reforms in the second thirty years would not have been possible.
This Third Plenum, if these political reforms are carried out, will begin a third thirty-year era that will dialectically combine the first two and bring into totality a unique modern Chinese narrative -- a model of governance not driven by elections yet is competent, responsive, agile, and with effective checks and balances.
Today, crises of governance are plaguing nations around the world. From America’s paralyzing partisanship to Europe’s byzantine elitism, the developed world is steeped in stagnating malaise. In much of the developing world, from Thailand to Egypt, electoral regimes are either failing to deliver or have altogether lost legitimacy.
Although facing myriad challenges and growing pains, China stands apart in so many dimensions – economic development, poverty alleviation, and general social cohesion, to name just a few. On Mr. Xi’s watch, China will become the world’s largest economy. At the current trajectory, by the middle of this century, it will become a true great power in all aspects of its national power. This ancient civilization’s modern success could bring the world fresh perspectives and new possibilities. But that potential could not be realized without a coherent and mature system of political governance suitable to the country. The daring political reforms unleashed at The Third Plenum, if successful, will cement China’s political governance for many generations to come and pave the way for the ancient civilization to at last reclaim its place among the nations of the world. What happened last November in Beijing, then, may prove to be more consequential than most people in the world have recognized.
Eric X. Li is a venture capitalist and political scientist in Shanghai.
- 责任编辑: 陈轩甫
习近平：中国将用史上最短时间实现碳中和 评论 94“或许，这是中美关系一抹潜在亮色” 评论 322一季度GDP出炉！比2019年同期增长10.3% 评论 281选举委员会“内地港人团体”获27席 评论 97最新闻 Hot