Xi Jin­ping and the Four Com­pre­hen­sives

Re­form and party dis­ci­pline are dom­i­nant themes “Ev­ery leader tries to come up with his trade­mark”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - NEWS - −Dex­ter Roberts

“Have you heard of the Four Com­pre­hen­sives?” a kindly-look­ing man asks a pig­tailed girl with huge eyes, in a car­toon video re­leased by China’s of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency on Feb. 2. “Is it some­thing to do with the Chi­nese Dream?” she re­sponds. “Ha-ha, well, let me tell you,” he says, be­fore launch­ing into an ex­plana­tory rap while they walk through a psy­che­delic land­scape, com­plete with a swing­ing mon­key, tigers in cages, rocket ships, hot air bal­loons, and backup disco dancers in­clud­ing a nurse, farmer, con­struc­tion worker, and sol­dier.

The Four Com­pre­hen­sives— pro­mot­ing pros­per­ity, deep­en­ing re­forms, strength­en­ing rule of law, and stress­ing party dis­ci­pline—are Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s con­tri­bu­tion to a tra­di­tion of Com­mu­nist Party lead­ers coin­ing slo­gans. Deng Xiaoping pop­u­lar­ized the Four Mod­ern­iza­tions, and later came up with Deng Xiaoping The­ory; for­mer Pres­i­dent Jiang Zemin gave China the Three Rep­re­sents. Dur­ing the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress, the Four Com­pre­hen­sives were cited— along­side the slo­gans of Deng, Jiang, and for­mer Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao— by Premier Li Ke­qiang when he gave the an­nual re­port on the state of the coun­try on March 5.

Af­ter lead­ers “come to power, the slo­gans be­come very im­por­tant in pol­i­cy­mak­ing,” says Ding Xueliang, a pro­fes­sor of so­cial sci­ence at the Hong Kong Univer­sity of Sci­ence & Tech­nol­ogy. “And ev­ery leader tries to come up with his trade­mark to show he be­longs at the top.” As Sun Yin­huan, vice chair­man of the All-China Fed­er­a­tion of In­dus­try and Com­merce, said in a news con­fer­ence in Bei­jing on March 11, “It clearly points the way for the fu­ture di­rec­tion we should take.”

The Four Com­pre­hen­sives take on China’s big­gest eco­nomic and political ques­tions. At the same time, they re­flect ten­sions in the party and so­ci­ety. Achiev­ing mod­er­ate pros­per­ity is a sen­si­ble goal. But in China that means a con­tin­ued fix­a­tion on ex­ces­sively rapid growth, with ever higher debt and zom­bie com­pa­nies the cost. Re­forms, as Xi sees them, mean more sup­port for state-owned com­pa­nies, not less, says Willy Lam, a pro­fes­sor at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong and au­thor of Chi­nese Pol­i­tics in the Era of Xi Jin­ping.

There are le­git­i­mate ef­forts to im­prove the le­gal sys­tem. But with Xi fix­ated on ide­o­log­i­cal con­trol, deep­en­ing the rule of law also means smoth­er­ing dis­sent, says Kristin Shi-Kupfer, head of re­search for pol­i­tics, so­ci­ety, and me­dia at the Ber­lin-based Mer­ca­tor In­sti­tute for China Stud­ies. Pro­mot­ing party dis­ci­pline, she says, in­cludes both the crack­down on cor­rup­tion and the si­lenc­ing of mem­bers who think Xi has gone too far in cen­sor­ing op­pos­ing views.

Shortly af­ter tak­ing power in 2012, Xi in­tro­duced the “Chi­nese Dream” of na­tional re­ju­ve­na­tion and a bet­ter life for all. Lately he seems to have fa­vored the Four Com­pre­hen­sives in­stead. An­other slo­gan, “Xi political eco­nom­ics,” is be­ing pro­moted: It’s a grab bag of all of his the­o­ries on the econ­omy and pol­i­tics.

Xi needs to ce­ment his au­thor­ity be­fore next year’s Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China, a twice-a-decade as­sem­bly where top party mem­bers are re­placed. “Xi’s PR peo­ple are build­ing up his per­son­al­ity cult in prepa­ra­tion for the 19th Party Congress, where pre­sum­ably he will ap­point more of his peo­ple into the cen­tral com­mit­tee and polit­buro,” says Lam. The true mean­ing is that all poli­cies must “re­flect the lead­er­ship of the party and the top po­si­tion of Xi Jin­ping,” he adds. “That is [the slo­gan’s true] mean­ing.” If Xi is suc­cess­ful, the Four Com­pre­hen­sives could be en­shrined in the party con­sti­tu­tion when he most likely steps aside as party leader in 2022. The bot­tom line The Four Com­pre­hen­sives could help the Chi­nese pres­i­dent con­sol­i­date power be­fore the Party Congress.

“Say it with me, the Four Com­pre­hen­sives!”

“The Chi­nese Dream is al­most here”

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