China's third plenum

Communist Party plenum's pledges aimed at reformers and conservatives

Analysts, though, point to contradictions and a desire to placate reformers and conservatives

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 5:53am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 12:42pm

The broad-brush policy document issued last week following a key Communist Party meeting is aimed at appeasing various interest groups and addressing major public discontent. If the ambitious agenda is not implemented, that will raise the political stakes for the party, analysts say.

In its blueprint for the coming nine years, the party's Central Committee listed a range of reforms covering the economy, finance, law, rural life and human rights, but avoided mention of political change.

The broad nature of the language used by the party's third plenum has led some observers to wonder whether President Xi Jinping is trying to please too wide a swathe of supporters.

Professor Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Beijing's Renmin University, said he found the plenum document outlining the reforms contained contradictions.

"For example, the document said farmers will be allowed to transfer and mortgage their land-use rights, but it failed to define whether farmers have land ownership," Zhang said.

"Also, if the central government still wants to protect the benefits of state-owned enterprises, how can it also take care of the interests of private companies and set up an open market system? … It seems like Xi wants to please both reformers and conservatives with the proposals."

Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said the party had deliberately steered clear of political issues.

"All the reforms and promises look like a Chinese herbal treatment designed for terminal cancer patients - ones who can't bear the risks of undergoing surgery," he said. "However, all reforms need a comprehensive legal and political system to support them; otherwise, any new, good policies will be twisted into harsh rules for the public."

Zhang Lifan said the new proposals indicated Xi's determination to consolidate his control over the army and  the other levers of power.

"Like all his predecessors, Xi also worships authoritarian leadership and advocates military power, but looks down on the importance of winning public support," he said.

"As has been the case in the past, the plenum resolution creates a beautiful blueprint that promises the public what they wanted … but now times have changed, and if the party fails to keep its word, it might face another political crisis."

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong, said the plenum's pledges showed the top leadership was treating economic reform and the anti-graft campaign as its top priorities because managing these two issues would best sustain the party's legitimacy.

"Maybe Xi understands that he cannot do too many things at the same time … so he chose some popular measures to please the public and the liberals,"  Cheng said.

The public would have to be patient and await more details on the economic plans, Cheng said, adding he believed Xi was taking them "very seriously".

"We have to expect related government departments will release detailed plans and timetables in the coming weeks and months."