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  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 1:20am
Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping's drive for reform depends on strong party, says former senior policymaker Shi Zhihong

Former policy adviser Shi Zhihong insists curbs on the government's authority would be recipe for chaos as president drives China forward

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 5:19am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 2:13pm

President Xi Jinping is committed to reforms, including further opening up the economy to the free market, but will do nothing to subvert the power of the Communist Party, says a former senior policymaker.

Shi Zhihong, who until recently was deputy director of the Central Policy Research Office, said any moves to curb the party's authority might create instability and disorder.

"It is impossible to push hard for deepening reforms and to realise the modernisation of governance if the country is in chaos," Shi told the South China Morning Post in his first wide-ranging interview with a newspaper outside the mainland. Shi was responsible for drafting key policy documents, such as the communiqué issued at the end of the party plenum in November that mapped out reforms for the next decade.

He said there were elements in the party on the left who rejected modernisation and reformers on the right who questioned one-party rule. Both approaches could prove disastrous for the country's steady path of reform.

And as reform goes deeper it might damage the interests of some groups who question the authority of the party, he said.

The country could evolve only through "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and could not allow any "subversive errors" when it comes to the fundamental issues of governance, he added. One of the cornerstones of Xi's foreign policy was that it would not challenge the existing international order, despite its imperfections, said Shi, who is now deputy head of the legal committee for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's political advisory body.

"We criticise Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe because he wants to subvert the post-war international order," he said.

"The international system has problems, but we have to perfect it, not subvert it. The socialist system that the party has built also has problems, but we have to make it better through reforms."

Relations between China and Japan have become increasingly strained since Abe's December visit to the Yasukuni shrine, which honours war criminals from the second world war.

Beijing has accused Abe's government of increasing militarism and of turning its back on the pacifist constitution that Japan adopted after the second world war.

Shi said government leaders realised poor work by some officials was hampering China's development. He quoted Xi as saying at a meeting last year that officials were struggling as they found "the old approaches stopped working, but at the same time they don't know how to implement the new approaches; the hardline approaches they don't dare to use, but at the same time the weak approaches no longer work".

The leadership's new philosophy of governance included upholding the country as a nation under the law; promoting citizen involvement in social issues such as food safety and air pollution; allowing democracy at the lower levels of government; and educating citizens to have strong morals and values.

Shi also said the assertion in the party plenum document that the free market would play a decisive role in the economy reflected only part of the new thinking.

"The government should play more of a role than that of just a watchdog in a powerhouse like China," he said. "In future reforms, we need to build a strong market, but at the same time we need a strong government and a strong society."

Shi said it was wrong to look at the development of China as either going down a route of massive state control or towards an unfettered free market.

The party's approach was more pragmatic, he said.

Shi raised the example of an ideological debate in 2012 between disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and former Guangdong party boss Wang Yang , who is now vice-premier. They openly debated in the media about what was dubbed the "cake theory" of the economy.

Bo's Chongqing model focused on dividing the cake more equally among the public, while the Guangdong model centred on first making the cake bigger.

"The correct approach of the central government should be dividing the cake more equally, but on the premise of making a bigger cake," Shi said.

A full interview with Shi Zhihong in Chinese is available at nanzao.com, the SCMP's Chinese language website


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This article is now closed to comments

Formerly ******
What a joke. The US has a more socialistic system than China. For gosh sakes, China doesn't even have a Medicare-type or any retirement system, such as the US Social Security. China's government is just an authoritarian, one-party system with an economic system that combines mercantilism with cronyism and enforces this with violence against those who dare to fight it.
Formerly ******
Mr. pslhk:
Yes, equal rights apply regardless of abilities; however, this doesn't mean there must be equal outcomes as among individuals. This is an important distinction.
Ask yourself this, if democracy were so doomed to failure, then why is the US the strongest nation in the history of the world?
As for countries in which the people save a lot of money, I suggest that you study the paradox of thrift. Yes, it's possible for a nation to save itself into decline.
You might also look into China's banking system and its government-owned commercial enterprises. Why is wealth disparity worse in China than in the US? Seems that many of China's government officials have a habit of acquiring much wealth by virtue of being part of the government than by virtue of having earned it in the marketplace.
Formerly ******
Mr ***** with the white doggie avatar:
Ah, where to begin to address your many falsehoods? First, the technology was developed in England, France, and US between 1760 and 1860. What did these countries all have in common? They were democracies.
Today's issues are nothing compared to the Great Depression.
Neither Thailand nor Ukraine is a true democracy. In Thailand, it's against the law to criticize the king. Along with weak property rights and a short history of resolving conflicts by well established legal precedent, Thailand also criminalizes many acts that simply are politics as usual in Western democracies.
The Ukraine has problems with corruption and cronyism. It has no history of strong property rights and does't have a strong system of resolving conflicts by law. These are legacies of the communist dicatorship of Ukraine. Very similar to China's history.
By the way, what of the many, many everyday violent demonstrations in China that are repressed with strong-arm government tactics? Is this your ideal of the perfect, orderly society? If yes, keep it in China.
Xi Jinping is certainly one of the best leaders in the Chinese history.
America did not start from the scratch. The technology were acquired from England and other European countries. America's power and wealth did not come from democracy but from stealing the resources and land from the Native Americans and from ripping off the African slaves.
America's spiraling downward is caused by the poison of democracy. It is like a snowball effect that adding up problems along the way. Every governing party spends a lot of money to appease the voters in order to get more votes, that is why the treasury has become empty and America is struggling.
Look at Thailand and Ukraine, they run the western democracy and are in chaos, because democracy comes with another huge flaw that provides convenience for foreign powers to plant puppet parties to mess up their politics to the advantage of these foreign powers.
By the way, Xi is an excellent and outstanding leader. I really like him a lot. Absolutely, the western democracy comes with tons of poison and thus, it does not fit China.
From the idea of T McCraw, HBS head
who holds that the crux of management problems
of all organizations, families, corporations and countries
is centralization, decentralization, and interaction,
we readily observe that
decentralization = reserves deficit e.g., the US, a “liberal democracy”
centralization = reserves surplus e.g., China, Singapore, collective polities
In “liberal democracies” which advocate equal political right of individuals
regardless of capability, merit, and purpose
where technologies and globalisation have caused structural unemployment
and mismatched resources and polarized income distribution
perpetual economic deficit is only one possible outcome
of decentralized decision-making and majority rule:
The economic deficits of “liberal democracies” are financed
thru the military clout of the hegemonic west
and “goodwill” based on sham “moral correctness” of “democracy”
that the world’s ignorant masses still enjoy being deceived by


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