Early Trends From Xi Jinping’s Leadership – Analysis

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By Prashant Kumar Singh

Xi Jinping is yet to complete the first two months of his tenure as the paramount leader of the Chinese Communist Party. And two months are too short a period to offer any judgment on Xi Jinping’s leadership or even highlight any definite trends. However, a study of his first two months as the Party General Secretary can be treated as the beginning of a familiarization with his role as the supreme leader.

Xi Jinping has picked up from where the outgoing leader Hu Jintao left. Delivering his work-report speech at the 18th Party Congress, Hu Jintao had spoken of “a beautiful China”, “doubling the people’s income”, “building a comprehensively well-off society”, “fighting corruption” and “rule of law”. Since then Xi Jinping has delivered three major speeches, which talk of “the people’s livelihoods”, “Chinese dreams” and “governing the country according to the constitution”. This is an obvious reaffirmation of continuity of the political agenda in China. Nothing drastic can be sensed on this count.1

China's Xi Jinping

China’s Xi Jinping

In the past less than two months Xi Jinping’s speeches and actions have elaborated upon three major themes. He has upheld the market economy. The Polit Bureau under him has adopted certain measures which the Chinese media has upheld as “war against formalism and bureaucracy”. And, he has emphatically endorsed the Rule of Law.

Early this month Xi Jinping went on an inspection tour of Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, and Guangzhou. The media has remarked that this tour was inspired by the famous southern tour of Deng Xiaoping in 1992 during which he mobilized public opinion in favour of reforms and opening up. Xi Jinping has conveyed the message that there will be “no stop in reform, no stop in opening-up”, and stated that “China will maintain economic growth and persevere with market-oriented reforms” since “promoting the reform and opening-up was a key to achieving the “Two 100-Year Objectives” and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. Consensus, at least elite consensus, on the course of the Chinese economy seems to be intact. In fact, during the period when the leadership transition process was on, China’s State Council approved two new national level comprehensive development zones (economic zones) in Lanzhou and in Guangzhou.2 However, notwithstanding powerful expressions of concern by the Chinese leadership about inequality, poverty, social unrest and environmental problems, the media has not reported any substantial decision that was taken to alleviate such concerns.

Xi Jinping has recently averred that the Party has to address the problems of corruption, distance from the people, formalism and bureaucracy.3 Recently, he chaired a Polit Bureau meeting which decided to curb “extravagance by officials and reduce bureaucratic visits and meetings”. A decision was also taken in the meeting against “welcome banners, red carpets, floral arrangements or grand receptions for officials’ visits”. Reducing expenditure on officials’ trips was another decision. The meeting also decided that leaders’ security should be ensured without causing traffic problems. And useless tours, ceremonies, celebrations, seminars and foreign travels must be discouraged.4 The Chinese media has described these measures as the CPC leadership’s war against formalism and bureaucracy.5 On one level, these decisions may be described as token and cosmetic. But at another level, it seems that the party leadership is conscious of the image-problem that the party is facing at the ground level. The leadership seems to be aware of public resentment against arrogant and corrupt party cadres. These steps suggest that the party leadership is not in denial mode. The leadership seems to be recognizing the problem and appears to be quite concerned enough to take corrective measures. However, the party’s ground-level image-problem and its link with the authoritarian nature of the Chinese political system, corruption and repression is different and a complex area of enquiry. Suffice it to say that a lot more substantive measures need to be taken to resolve these problems.

Incidentally, the Chinese media recently praised the role of the Internet in exposing corrupt officials and action against them, and reported many incidents in which the Internet has prompted enquiry and action against corrupt officials. In fact, the media is claiming that anti-corruption campaigns on the Internet and the party leadership’s anti-corruption policies are completely in sync with each other, and that Internet activism enjoys the top leadership’s endorsement.6

In a recent speech, Xi Jinping emphasized that

“[a]ll citizens are equal before the law … Freedom should be guaranteed… Supervising mechanisms and systems ensuring the Constitution’s implementation have not been perfect… Judicial and law enforcement problems concerning people’s immediate interests are still evident… To fully implement the Constitution, is the primary task and the basic work in building a socialist nation ruled by law… The Constitution is the country’s basic law and the general rule in managing state affairs…The Constitution is of supreme legal status, authority and efficacy… No organization or individual has the special right to overstep the Constitution and law…The authority of the Constitution and the rule of law should be promoted… the Constitution is a “legal weapon” that guarantees rights… A country ruled by law should be first ruled by the Constitution, and the lawful governance should be based on the Constitution.”.7

However, implementing the Rule of Law and establishing the supremacy of the Constitution while keeping One Party Rule intact is a gigantic theoretical as well as practical problem. The Communist Party appears to be taking Rule by Law for Rule of Law. There is a world of difference between the two. Rule by Law could be reduced to satisfying a requirement of having rules and regulations, whereas the Rule of Law is a complete liberal package. Rule of Law and an authoritarian system cannot walk together for long.

Finally, as of now, we see the continuation of the status-quo, though the concerns are quite apparent. Contradictions do exist in China’s economy, its fight against corruption and discourse on Rule of Law. However, to judge whether Xi Jinping will offer anything radical in the direction of addressing these contradictions, two months are really inadequate. But one thing is for sure: a lot of churning is taking place at the subterranean level of the Chinese state, which China watchers should keep bringing to wider notice.

1. “China’s road to rejuvenation filled with flowers and thorns (2)”, People’s Daily, December 24, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/102774/8067561.html.
2. “Reform and Opening-up crucial to Chinese nation’s great rejuvenation”, People’s Daily, December 17, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/90785/8059978.html; “China’s Xi underscores economic growth, market-oriented reforms”, People’s Daily, December 07, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/90785/8049507.html; “China’s “New Area” programs gain momentum”, People’s Daily, December 20, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/90778/8064830.html
3. “Anti-graft report advises restricting officials’ power”, People’s Daily, December 20, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/90785/8064640.html.
4. “New CPC leadership rejects extravagance, bureaucracy”, People’s Daily, http://english.people.com.cn/90785/8046090.html.
5. “Commentary: CPC leadership wages war against formalism, bureaucracy”, People’s Daily, December 6, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/90785/8047699.html.
6. According to the media, investigation and action against Yuan Zhanting, Mayor of Lanzhou in Gansu Province, Yang Dacai, a work safety official in Shaanxi Province, Cai Bin, an urban management official in Guangdong Province and Lei Zhengfu, a district head in Chongqing Municipality, have been prompted by Internet exposes. The media also informs that this is not a new trend. In 2009, an internet expose had led to the award of an 11-year prison term to Zhou Jiugeng, a former real estate management official in Nanjing. For details, see “China’s craze for online anti-corruption”, People’s Daily, December 7, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/90882/8049948.html.

Recently, the Chinese media has been full of corruption prevention stories. It has prominently highlighted the action taken against guilty party cadres and officials. It has carried news items informing about various measures taken for the prevention of corruption. The media has reported that Guangdong Province would launch “a pilot regulation requiring local officials to disclose their assets, as well as those of their relatives to a certain amount of people”. It also reported that the Guangzhou Municipal Commission for Discipline Inspection was “working on a corruption prevention information system that will integrate data from various government departments to find clues about corrupt officials”. See, “China’s craze for online anti-corruption”, People’s Daily, December 7, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/90882/8049948.html.

The issue of corruption is not a new phenomenon in China, neither are anti-corruption statements. However, what has been observed is that corruption has become a reference point to score points in Chinese politics. It has become a reference point to criticize the Chinese Communist Party. For the party, anti-corruption measures have become a reference point to prove its sincerity towards the problem. Moreover, corruption charges have also been used to target political opponents in the manner the charge of “ideological revisionism” was used during the Maoist period. What is beyond doubt is that the party leadership genuinely appears concerned and scared as rampant corruption is causing mass anger against the party. For a brief analysis of the political-economy of corruption, see, Tony Saich, “China in 2006: Focus on Social Development”, The Asian Survey, January/February 2007, 47 (1): pp. 32-43. The analysis of this aspect is on pp. 36 to 39.

The problem is being continuously discussed in official and unofficial avenues. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences recently compiled “The Report on Combating Corruption and Upholding Integrity in China”, which put forward recommendations like “publicizing the records of officials’ use of public fund for receptions, transportation and travel and incorporating such records into evaluations of officials’ work.” See “Anti-graft report advises restricting officials’ power”, People’s Daily, December 20, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/90785/8064640.html.
7. This speech was delivered on the occasion of 30th anniversary of China’s 1982 Constitution. Please see “CPC’s new chief pledges to implement rule of law”, People’s Daily, December 5, 2012, http://english.people.com.cn/90785/8046056.html

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/EarlyTrendsfromXiJinpingsLeadership_pksingh_281212

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The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) is a non-partisan, autonomous body dedicated to objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defence and security. Its mission is to promote national and international security through the generation and dissemination of knowledge on defence and security-related issues. IDSA has been consistently ranked over the last few years as one of the top think tanks in Asia.

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