As soon as the 15th Central Committee of the Communist Party
of China closed its three-day fifth plenum on Wednesday, some
Western observers said it was devoid of surprise and detail.
That was no surprise because fresh thinking does not necessarily
take the form of eye-catching news or new jargon.
Detail seekers will have to wait until March when the National
People's Congress examines and ratifies the next five-year plan
drafted by the central government.
Despite the absence of detailed figures, the plenum offered
something more strategic.
The five-year plan will tell us what we want to achieve by 2005,
the policy blueprint at the plenum decided the course of our
economy and society well beyond that time.
The one target that can be considered solid is the goal of doubling
the country's gross domestic product by 2010.
The centerpiece of the plenum was a list of priorities for the
next five years. They included strategic restructuring of the
economy, higher quality and efficiency of growth, modern corporate
mechanisms for State firms, a complete social security system
and more jobs.
Many of these things have been heard of before. But the prescription
of "fairly speedy growth" and "deeper international
cooperation and competition on a wider range" as guiding
principles is something fresh.
Prior to this, high growth was more an economic reality than
a pronounced policy goal. Now it is officially recognized as
a tool to "solve contradictions and problems existing in
economic and social lives."
Also noteworthy is the plenum's emphasis on structural readjustment
as the "thread" of reform and opening-up. This will
work with progress in science and technology as the "impetus"
for upgrading the economy.
Singling out structural problems is a result of gains and losses
in the past, the last five years in particular.
Robust growth during most of the last 22 years once concealed
the potential damages of faulty structures. These included problems
with individual firms, some regional industrial structures and
systems within the national economy. These problems stood out
and became increasingly easy to see as the economy slowed down
between 1993 and 1999.
Stockpiles, which once grew in proportion with factory inventories,
taught the lesson that productivity alone does not paint a reliable
picture of the economy.
Forcing supply to match demand in a country where consumption
was previously led by production is a lesson we are just learning.
The plenum's call for transforming government functions to facilitate
transition towards a market economy again shows the Party's
Aside from extensive coverage of the technical aspects of the
economy, the plenum paid special attention to such problems
as unemployment, social security, and how to increase farmers'
Along with a vow to make sure people get practical benefits
from economic growth, such ideas suggest a sense of urgency
in addressing social issues.
Judging from what was made public yesterday in the communique,
the Party plenum focused well on the important issues the country
has to tackle.
The ever clearer signs of recovery at the end of the ninth Five-Year
Plan period have made a more ambitious package possible in the
next five years.
(China Daily 10/13/2000)