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Tuesday, January 13, 2015, 09:39

New reform drives governance style

By Xiao Gongqin

The wave of reform initiated by the Chinese leadership led by President Xi Jinping in 2012, has brought the country a new round of major changes 36 years after the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s.

Unprecedentedly high anti-graft pressure was the first step Xi took after assuming office, and this has been one of the most significant moves. By empowering the central disciplinary agency of the governing Communist Party of China, and punishing both senior and lower-level corrupt officials, Xi and his team have succeeded in putting a yoke on the once rampant corruption.

Regulating officials' other improper behavior was another essential move that helped ease tensions between people and the government - it at least dissuaded power from being arrogant and continuing to trample on people's dignity. During the process, Xi repeatedly and strictly enforced the CPC's discipline instead of raising any new slogan that applied only on paper, which shows his strong political skills.

The past system, in which redundant officials shared and traded power with one another, not only caused low efficiency, it also led to corruption gangs that threaten the governance of the Party. In order to make sure his reform measures are effectively implemented, Xi has given up the old bureaucratic system and formed several special task forces, such as the ones on national security, on deepening reform, and on financial affairs, which have raised efficiency and prevented distortion.

Concerning the economy, Xi has taken a step forward by stressing that the market should play the decisive role in allocating resources, pointing out clearly the route to a full market economy. The launch of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone and the following-up of provinces and municipalities such as Guangdong, Tianjin and Fujian are best examples of his design.

Politically, Xi has advocated the rule of law and made a series of moves to warn local authorities not to interfere in legal affairs.

The majority of these measures are highly risky because they overturn some of the authorities' past practices. If the measures prove successful, they might encourage the people's calls for more democracy and evoke doubts about the ruling legitimacy of the CPC; if they fail, they would arouse universal anger, leading to mass protests and a more chaotic situation that make any further reform impossible.

As a spiritual support, Xi has also given up some rigid parts of ideology, and stressed the importance of traditional culture instead, which is a more appealing flag in promoting national unity. Promoting traditional culture also curbs the once popular West-centeredness.

Another key to his successfully controlling the situation is to fully exploit the political resources of the CPC - the convenience with which it can mobilize social forces, even memories of its historical virtues, which appeal to the public. In his speeches reported by the media, Xi often resorts to the cultural elements that the Party relied on when it was still a revolutionary party, trying to overthrow what it considered as unjust order. This helps regain some of the Party's lost trust from the people, who are beginning to have more confidence in the Party's ability to reform itself.

By doing so, Xi has obtained an authority that is increasingly comparable to that of Deng Xiaoping. Some intellectuals advocating US-style constitutionalism consider it negative, but only a leadership with ample authority can unite enough social forces to form a consensus to support constitutional and democratic reform. Similar approaches could be reflected from Japan's reform after the Meiji Revolution and China's own dramatic changes in the 1980s.

A contrary example is Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which launched constitutional reform in its last 10 years, but failed because the dynasty, in a deep legitimacy crisis, could no longer rally national support for its moves. The failure brought the dynasty to collapse. As a vast country, China easily faces lack of authority in any attempt to make changes, which was typical in the decades following 1911. Now Xi's team is establishing the necessary authority to propel reform and the opportunity should be cherished.

It is noticeable that the current centralization of authority is being accompanied by the enlargement of democracy and the promotion of human rights. Authority needs to, and will, coexist with diversified thinking in society, so as to propel healthy changes without getting out of control. That's the only way of transforming the Chinese society into one with both prosperity and a mature democracy.

The author is a professor of history at Shanghai Normal University.

 
 
 
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