President’s mission is one of crucial importance
More than two years after President Xi Jinping took office, his style of governance has become clear enough to be summarized.
Constant strong pressure to combat corruption is doubtlessly the first and most important characteristic. There was a point when people were becoming desperate about the rampant corruption and luxurious spending of officials, but Xi has achieved initial success in curbing these ills.
Interaction with ordinary people and the promotion of social justice are also characteristics of his leadership. During his inspection tours, the president always sends the signal that he stands with the people, and his main moves have been in response to calls from the people to correct any wrongs that have distorted justice.
Another essential feature is independence. Neither copying from the West nor simply continuing on the existing path, Xi has grabbed the world’s attention with the concept of the Chinese Dream, which has its own characteristics. The term is already being used as the theme for his political theory.
He has embraced a strong style of leadership because he knows the historical missions he faces during his time in office. The past decades of development have brought China closer to prosperity, but the uncorrected and accumulated mistakes have ruined some basic pillars of support that need to be resurrected.
The fact that the Communist Party of China’s legitimacy to govern needs repairing due to damage inflicted by corruption has been hidden behind fast growth. Political legitimacy in China comes from the consent of the governed — an administration without popular support might rule by force, but its governance will be neither stable nor longlasting. The Party needs to regain the people’s trust and rally their support.
The political culture, which is almost corrupt from the roots in some sectors, must be totally cleansed. The astonishing number of corrupt officials and the incredible amounts of money they have amassed show how serious corruption has been, even under the high antigraft pressure.
It should also be noted that corruption has already harmed social order in the country, resulting in chaos and general moral decline. Only a clean government can reverse the trend.
China is proud of being a 5,000-year-old civilization, but the failure in governance has already ruined many of its traditional values. The leadership, having realized the destructive effects, is attempting to construct China’s modern values.
In his reform plan, Xi declared the market would play the decisive role in allocating resources and that rule of law will be upheld, thus determining the development mode of China. A market economy with rule of law — that’s the direction for China’s reform in the near and long term.
These principles are based on the actual conditions of China, which has not only grown from being one of the poorest nations in the world into the second-largest economy within 35 years, but also accumulated enough risks to ruin itself within a much shorter time frame.
The root cause of the risks lies in the country’s unhealthy mode of development: Relying on cheap labor and low social welfare to boost economic development, and strengthening the bureaucratic system to maintain social stability. As a result, the country faces one of the widest social wealth gaps in the world and widespread complaints against the authorities and the rich.
The past process has resulted in gradual waning of people’s trust in the authorities, as the authorities always tend to defend interest groups, of which they are also one. Never has the trust crisis been so evident since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
These problems and risks used to be covered up by the country’s double-digit GDP growth. However, as the demographic dividend declines and the past mode of development is no longer sustainable, all these issues have been exposed.
It was amid all these crises that Xi and his team assumed the leadership and started the new round of reform, which needs to solve the problems without causing any major social upheaval. Whether it will succeed depends primarily on whether the leadership can defeat the resistance of interest groups and avoid mistakes that might lead to it being overthrown.
The interest groups include corrupt officials and certain government agencies that fear their powers are being curtailed by the reforms. The leadership has shown its determination to propel reform despite their opposition.
How to maintain the situation while propelling the reform will be a severe test for the leadership’s political wisdom.
The author is vice president of the China Society of Administrative Reform, an independent think tank in Beijing.