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Party official outlines limits to China’s reform moves

Ananth Krishnan
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Challenge is to improve ‘oversight on power’ but no wholesome change to the system

Members taking oath before a Communist Party of China flag before joining up in this file photo.— PHOTO: AP
Members taking oath before a Communist Party of China flag before joining up in this file photo.— PHOTO: AP

A Communist Party official on Friday said China’s ruling party would push forward economic reforms despite “difficulties” posed by vested interests, while at the same time ruling out any significant political reform measures within the one-party system.

Last week, the Communist Party of China (CPC) had announced a blueprint for new economic and social reforms following a key plenary session, detailing moves to give a more prominent role to the market; curtail profits of influential State-owned Enterprises (SOEs); and allow farmers to sell collectively-owned farmland.

The CPC also announced an easing of the one-child policy, allowing couples to have two children if one parent is the only child. Under earlier rules, both parents, in cities, have to be only children to have a second child, while in rural areas families can have a second child if their first born is a girl.

Vested interests

Xie Chuntao, President of the Journal of the Central Committee’s elite Party School, said on Friday “vested interests may pose some difficulties” to the newly announced reform moves. Officials have said influential SOEs as well as local governments may push back against moves to limit their powers.

“Some interest groups will benefit, some will not,” Mr. Xie said. “So this has made reform all the more difficult. For example, those people may not be happy when their vested interests are affected. When government decides to delegate approval power, those people deprived of it may be unhappy when they lose that power. But I believe, this time, vested interests cannot stop the reforms”.

The Chinese government is hoping the reform moves will help revitalise the slowing economy, push forward the rebalancing of the State investment-driven, export-led economic model, and help boost innovation industries and domestic consumption. The Party said that to do so, it will give the market a “decisive” role in allocating resources, and also push forward reform of inefficient and corrupt SOEs.

On political reforms, however, Mr. Xie said the CPC had made clear that it will not dilute its authority.

“If the system is changed, China will get into chaos,” Mr. Xie said. “The CPC will not change the country into a country with multiple parties in power”.

Mr. Xie did acknowledge that in the absence of checks and balances on the ruling party, such as an independent judiciary, corruption had proliferated within its ranks. The challenge facing the Party was to improve “oversight on its power”, even as it remains wary of relinquishing its political authority.

He suggested that a pilot programme to force newly-promoted officials to declare their assets publicly may help curb corruption. “This measure will declare the assets held by the official, including houses and bank deposits. If these are declared, it will be very hard for the official to hide their assets,” he said.

Assets

At the same time, the top leadership has, in recent months, waged a campaign to crack down on activists who have been demanding for the party’s leaders to declare their assets.

More than a dozen campaigners have been detained.

The latest reform moves have been seen by analysts here as a tightrope walk by the party, as it looks to revitalise the economy even as it consolidates its political power.

Last week’s plenary meeting also announced the setting up of a first ever National Security Commission to oversee domestic and external security issues – a move seen as centralising power within the top leadership.

Many Chinese analysts have consequently described current President Xi Jinping as the most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping, who launched the “reform and opening up” three decades ago.

Asked if he agreed with that description, Mr. Xie said, “I believe General Secretary Xi is powerful, that is true. But can his power be compared to other leaders? That is hard for me to say”.


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