How Xi Jinping revitalised party and state with his morally uncompromising leadership
Lawrence J. Lau says it is Xi’s emphasis on discipline, virtues and patriotism that will succeed in ridding the party and government of the rot of corruption, and remove the impediments to economic reforms
‘Xi Jinping Thought’ enshrined in the party charter
Through the congress, Xi cemented his control over the party and put his own team in place. He will be able to set the direction for the nation in the next five years and implement a programme that is truly his own.
Xi subscribes to the view that “the nation can be governed well only if the party is governed well; and the party can be governed well only with the strictest discipline”. There is no doubt that he is in complete control of the party. After the congress, it will be through the party that he will exercise his power to move the government and the nation.
For example, it would be possible for him to push forward the economic reform programmes such as letting the market play the determining role and resolving the problem with “zombie” enterprises. That is precisely why supremacy of the party is so important. While the party’s leading role is clearly spelled out in the Chinese constitution, the more recent move to introduce language in corporate charters affirming the leading role of the party is new and reflects a desire to make enterprises more responsive to the party’s directions and needs. This may have been motivated by the fact that some of the economic reforms advocated by Xi have yet to be fully completed.
Xi must have reflected on the question: how was it possible to have so much corruption within the Communist Party, the government and the armed forces? In his work report to the congress, Xi repeatedly emphasised the importance of Chinese culture and philosophy. This may reflect the realisation that, ultimately, character and values, and not just talent, ability and popularity, are important determinants of actions and behaviour. To make the party a clean and effective governing body, it is important to try to motivate the members through ideology and to appeal to their idealism and patriotism, and not rely solely on potential punishment as a deterrent. Xi wants a party with members who are not corruptible because of their own personal beliefs and values.
The new and abundant private wealth in China poses a huge temptation to party members. The four traditional Chinese values of “courtesy, righteousness, honesty and shame” may once again have to become relevant. Xi places great importance on the education and nurturing of party members. It is useful to reflect that for approximately two millennia before the early 20th century, Chinese government officials were chosen through an examination system – it was a meritocracy.
However, it was not just a meritocracy, as the scholar-officials and the potential scholar-officials were required to adhere to strict personal behavioural norms. Thus, they were more akin to a “priesthood”. I believe Xi expects party members to be both meritorious and virtuous.
With many of the government officials retired, anti-corruption efforts can become more forward-looking, focusing on current wrongdoings rather than past deeds. The goal should be to make sure no one will engage in corrupt practices after the 19th party congress. This change in focus will allow officials to concentrate on their current tasks rather than to try to hide past mistakes.
The expected establishment of a state supervisory commission, with branches at the provincial, municipal and county levels, in the spring of 2018, was mentioned in Xi’s work report. This is a momentous decision with far-reaching consequences. In principle, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is only responsible for supervising the actions of party members. It cannot prosecute any suspected offenders in the courts or send them to jail; only the state prosecutor can do so. The new supervisory commission will be able to exercise the prosecutorial functions in cooperation with the discipline inspection commission.
Lawrence J. Lau is Ralph and Claire Landau Professor of Economics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong