By Lin Shaowen
China's ruling Communist Party (CPC) has passed two intra-Party"laws"at a plenary session of its Central Committee, aiming at achieving clean and more effective governance. The two documents, namely the norms of political life in the Party under the current conditions, an update from a 1980 document, and the regulation on intra-Party supervision, are regulations on Party operation and performance and on internal supervision and discipline of its members, especially top-level officials.
Party Leader Xi Jinping described the two documents as part of CPC efforts to "fasten the cage of regulations" to curb corruption, by preventing old problems from recurring and new ones from spreading.
Specific rules include criteria on qualification of cadres, who can stay and be promoted and who should be disciplined, all harsher Party rules than national laws – meaning certain behavior OK with national law is forbidden by "Party Law" since you are "somebody". And if you are among the so-called "key handful" – a member of CPC Central Committee, or of its elite Political Bureau and or of the bureau's Standing Committee, you'd better watch your behavior before others watch you.
The CPC has been fighting a tough battle on corruption in the past four years. Up to now, 97 officials at vice-ministerial level or above (the "tigers") have been brought down and investigated by prosecutors for corruption. The list gets much longer when it comes to lower level officials (the "fliers"). But so far, the battle mainly focuses on the symptom of the problems. To tackle the root causes, the new move is designed to institutionalize the party's anti-corruption campaign and curb privileges so as to solidify the Party's ruling legitimacy. Compared with the measures taken in the initial stage of the campaign, mainly to deal with specific cases, measures stipulated in the new documents are both responsive and preventative in nature, by introducing both internal rules and supervision and public scrutiny to regularly check the words and deeds of party organs and their individual members at all levels.
As leader of the Party's watchdog – the Central Discipline Committee – Wang Qishan puts it, the Party will create an environment, step by step, in which officials first "dare not", then "can not" (impossible to) and finally will not ( have no intention to) abuse their power. The current move means the launch of the second step – continue to curb long-term problems, such as corruption, abuse of power for personal gains, and negligence of duty, in order to ensure real public service and deliver public goods. No one is immune from internal and public supervision.
For a better understanding of the significance of the current move (Battle on Graft Phase II), one has to see it in a big setting and the overall historic background.
The CPC vows to realize a China Dream, or the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. That blueprint includes two millennial goals – the near one, to build a moderately wealthier society in 2021 when the CPC marks its 100th founding anniversary, and the longer one, a socialist modern society that is prosperous, democratic and harmonious in 2049 when the People's Republic celebrates its centenary.
For a success in achieving the near goal, the Party has launched a "four comprehensive" integral strategy – that is, to comprehensively build a moderately wealthier society as the central task, including a plan to help the final 70 million people out of poverty. And to pave the way for that task, hence the other three supporting tasks — to deepen reforms, to push for rule of law and now to adopt strict Party disciplines, all in comprehensive manners. For that end, the Party Central Committee convened four plenary sessions to map out specific plans on each of those four pillars one by one.
Prosperity is the common desire of the people, but to achieve it, reforms must continue and go deeper as the development model changes in different periods of time and against all odds and uncertainties. As public service remains a critical issue, the country must be governed with rule of law – to ensure legitimate operation of public and economic affairs. And the greatest challenge lies in checking the power, especially at the highest level, to make sure that officials perform their duty, free from power abuse, and refrain from any illegitimate gains.
When money corrupts into decision-making, when extra marital affairs affects administration, in cases of dereliction of duty and in cases of ignorance and ignoring of public service, the only consequences are national and public interests being damaged. In recent years we've seen several cases of serious scandals in local legislative elections (e.g. Liaoning, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces), involving several dozens bribing others to get elected and several hundreds others accepting bribes, plus local leaders turning a blind eye and deaf ear to such behavior until a minor case involving a couple of people turned to massive frauds and until the Central Authorities intervened. And look at the cases of the 97 "tigers" brought down and prosecuted in the last four years. Most of them involved money and extra marital affairs. Before such cases were brought under spotlight and dealt with politically and legally, people had to do with lesser of evils in choosing and promoting officials, or in street whisper style, promoting those "already ill".
China's development and modernization drive is now at a critical moment. If things are handled well, the country will skip the mid-income trap and achieve a leap forward to common prosperity. But the same drive may also be at a cross road, if current problems prevail. The digital gap, regional disparity and problems with public welfare are among the most critical challenges, arousing complaints and anger, thus shattering public confidence in the socialist development model and political system, which has proved to be fit. But to continue the success story, even at troubled waters, the key lies in power checking, Party governance and rule of law.
Years later, history may recall the 6th plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee held in 2016 as a critical event in Chinese politics, for taking a tough decision of self-discipline at a tough time. No alternative!