Xi’s key to gov­er­nance: drive re­form

China Daily (Canada) - - XI’S VISIT -

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s state visit to Washington comes at a time when most China watch­ers in the US have be­come pes­simistic about Si­noAmer­i­can re­la­tions. While the op­ti­mum strat­egy for both sides is to fo­cus on is­sues that unite — eco­nomic growth, cli­mate change, green tech, re­gional wars, ter­ror­ism, or­ga­nized crime, and pan­demics — US pol­i­cy­mak­ers should also un­der­stand what is re­ally go­ing on in China.

The gen­eral per­cep­tion among China ex­perts in the US is that, in terms of po­lit­i­cal re­form and civil so­ci­ety, China is re­gress­ing.

These are mul­ti­fac­eted is­sues and there is misun­der­stand­ing, but this is pre­cisely why any­one con­cerned with China should be fa­mil­iar with Xi’s “Four Com­pre­hen­sives,” his over­ar­ch­ing po­lit­i­cal the­ory. For­eign­ers of­ten dis­miss the po­lit­i­cal apho­risms of China’s lead­ers as sim­plis­tic slo­ga­neer­ing, but I know how im­por­tant they are. I’ve had pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions and con­ducted public in­ter­views (for state broad­caster China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion), and here is what I’ve found.

Xi put forth his Four Com­pre­hen­sives to ex­plain the four most crit­i­cal cat­e­gories for mak­ing the Chi­nese Dream — his grand vi­sion — a re­al­ity: Com­pre­hen­sively build a mod­er­ately pros­per­ous so­ci­ety, com­pre­hen­sively deepen re­form, com­pre­hen­sively gov­ern the na­tion ac­cord­ing to law, and com­pre­hen­sively strictly gov­ern the Party.

Each of the Four Com­pre­hen­sives has its own na­ture: “Mod­er­ately pros­per­ous” is a goal, “deepen re­form” is a means, “rule of law” is a prin­ci­ple, and strict dis­ci­pline of the Party is an ac­tion or state of af­fairs. But each has been a ma­jor pol­icy in it­self for years. “Mod­er­ately pros­per­ous so­ci­ety” since 2002, “re­form” since 1978, “rule of law” since at least 1997, and “Party dis­ci­pline” (in a sense) since the Com­mu­nist Party of China was founded in 1921.

So what is Xi’s pur­pose in com­bin­ing the four now?

The Four Com­pre­hen­sives emerge as Xi’s po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy of gov­er­nance via two lin­guis­tic de­vices and two prag­matic pur­poses. The lin­guis­tic de­vices are, first, com­bin­ing the four poli­cies into a sin­gle idea, and sec­ond, us­ing the same word, “com­pre­hen­sive,” as a de­scrip­tor of each. Com­bin­ing them makes the point that these four are the ba­sic driv­ers, and if achieved, all the oth­ers to re­al­ize the Chi­nese Dream will fol­low. “Com­pre­hen­sive” sig­nals two no­tions: Each pol­icy is fac­ing crit­i­cal chal­lenges in the era of the new nor­mal, such that each must be ex­panded be­yond its prior for­mu­la­tion, and Xi is mak­ing a very public com­mit­ment to each pol­icy, such that there is now no turn­ing back.

The prag­matic pur­poses are, one, a can­did com­pi­la­tion of ex­pe­ri­ences and as­sess­ment of cur­rent con­di­tions and, two, a pri­or­ity to im­ple­ment and act to achieve the uni­fy­ing goal for 2020 — re­al­iz­ing the “mod­er­ately pros­per­ous so­ci­ety.” As only five years re­main, the Four Com­pre­hen­sives high­light the deep-rooted ob­sta­cles that must be over­come, and the need for a clar­i­fy­ing call to ac­tion to achieve the Chi­nese Dream (the first goal).

How does “com­pre­hen­sively” en­rich the long­stand­ing goal of a mod­er­ately pros­per­ous so­ci­ety? For ex­am­ple, Xi told the Polit­buro of the Party’s Cen­tral Com­mit­tee that farm­ers must par­tic­i­pate as equals in the process of re­form and de­vel­op­ment so they too can en­joy its fruits.

“Deepen re­form” is the driv­ing force of Xi’s gov­er­nance. The mes­sage to of­fi­cials is to fo­cus on ac­tion, have a clear plan, and know your num­bers.

“Rule of law” is per­haps the most mis­un­der­stood. Re­cent ju­di­cial re­forms are a mile­stone: The power to con­trol the court sys­tem — from fi­nanc­ing the ju­di­ciary to se­lect­ing judges — is be­ing trans­ferred from the lo­cal level to the pro­vin­cial level. The ob­jec­tive is to pre­vent lo­cal in­ter­fer­ence in the fair and eq­ui­table ad­ju­di­ca­tion of cases and ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice.

“Strict Party dis­ci­pline” stresses Xi’s re­lent­less de­ter­mi­na­tion to root out cor­rup­tion and to shrink the waste­ful and de­tested perks of of­fi­cial­dom.

Xi’s gov­er­nance and Four Com­pre­hen­sives work com­ple­men­tar­ily and re­cur­sively — the Four Com­pre­hen­sives shape gov­er­nance, and gov­er­nance em­pow­ers the Four Com­pre­hen­sives.

For the new era, Xi is chal­leng­ing China to im­prove its gov­er­nance, which must be sys­temic as well as sys­tem­atic.

China wants the world to un­der­stand Xi’s gov­er­nance. That’s good for China, good for the world. US pol­i­cy­mak­ers should take note.

The au­thor is a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nom­ics com­men­ta­tor.

While the op­ti­mum strat­egy for both sides is to fo­cus on is­sues that unite — eco­nomic growth, cli­mate change, green tech, re­gional wars, ter­ror­ism, or­ga­nized crime, and pan­demics — US pol­i­cy­mak­ers should also un­der­stand what is re­ally go­ing on in China.

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