Concerned over shortcomings in governance and corruption in high places, the Communist Party of China wants its members to shun extravagance and be in constant touch with the people
After the formal selection of Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary Xi Jinping as State President and Li Keqiang, the second-ranking member of the CPC’s Politburo Standing Committee as Premier of the State Council, the executive organ, the two weeklong annual session of the Chinese Parliament has been concluded. With this, the new CPC leadership, which assumed power last November, finalised the transition process, which can be described as one of the smoothest in recent Chinese history.
If one takes a broad look at the developments in the past three months, the newly selected leadership “collective” has wanted to project a clean image among the large masses of the Chinese population. One of the decisions taken by the Politburo of the new Central Committee in early December 2012 was to reject extravaganza and reduce bureaucratic visits and meetings.
One of the main fears of the party leadership is getting alienated from the people. One can come across this fear expressed in more clear terms by the former Party General Secretary Hu Jintao in his report to the 18th Party Congress held in the first half of November 2012. He repeatedly reminded the Chinese leadership and people about the “blood and flesh” relationship enjoyed by the Party since its inception.
He exhorted the party in his report to the Congress that, “at all times the CPC must put the people’s interests above everything else, be of one mind with the people, share a common destiny with them, and rely on them to propel history forward.” He went on to remind the party members about the necessity of continuous study of the problems of people and the improvement required in “the system for Party members and officials to maintain direct contact with the people.”
Of late, the Party leadership has been constantly reminding its members and the people of China about the requirement of working together. The Party leadership is also well aware about the shortcomings in governance and the ever increasing problem of corruption at top levels. Keeping in mind these problems, the new leadership under Mr. Xi has decided to pledge itself to reject extravagance and reduce bureaucratic formalities and ostentation, in a bid to win the trust and support from the people. Detailed instructions went on to state, “there should be fewer traffic controls arranged for the leaders’ security on their trips to avoid unnecessary inconvenience to the public, and inspection tours as mere formality should be strictly prohibited.”
In December 2012, Mr. Xi, in his capacity as the Chairman of the newly constituted Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Party, issued instructions to avoid extravagance in the military and restrict the serving of liquor in official parties arranged by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). These instructions resulted in the fall in the prices of the shares of popular Moutai (a rice wine popular among armed forces and workers) brewers of China. Many of these campaigns led by Xi Jinping and his colleagues have started showing results, as some recent reports from China have shown. A large number of reports following this year’s Chinese Lunar New year celebrations noted substantial reduction in pollution levels and a sharp decrease in liquor consumption around the nation.
This background development is key to understanding some of the actions of the leadership collective ruling over China today. Their aspirations and interests were clearly reflected in the recent Parliament sessions in different ways. Wen Jiabao in his report reminded the Party and the nation that, “it should unwaveringly combat corruption, strengthen political integrity, establish institutions to end the excessive concentration of power and lack of checks on power and ensure that officials are honest, government is clean and political affairs are handled with integrity.” The direction the new leadership core built around Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang has become more clear. They want to take China to the next level of economic growth and development. The just concluded sessions also stand out on account of the media attention received. Internet chat-rooms and social media sites like China’s “weibo” — a Twitter equivalent with more than 500 million users — were very active during the sessions.
The former Premier Wen Jiabao had wanted his successors to concentrate on boosting domestic consumption and suggested using the government budget mainly to improve “social programmes and other projects to improve people’s well-being, and energy conservation, emission reduction and environmental protection.” How far will these reform measures take China? Xi Jinping has repeatedly called on the people of China to unite as one and work hard to finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and achieve “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Can the new generation of the Chinese leadership achieve these lofty goals in a fast-changing world without largely disturbing the existing world order? One of the basic requirements for this would be managing China’s own economic growth and distribution mechanism. Therefore, the question is not only about the sustainable development of the Chinese nation alone, but also one that is crucial for her neighbourhood in Asia and the world at large. For this, China’s new buzzwords to be “frugal” and “green” become relevant. How far can they succeed?
(M.V. Rappai is associated with the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi.)