19th CPC National Congress and China's future (I)

By Zheng Yongnian
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, October 16, 2017
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Delegates of Henan province to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China arrive in Beijing on Oct 15, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]



The Communist Party of China (CPC) will convene its national congress this week, once again raising questions as to what China will be like in the future.

The "Two Centenary Goals" have become a hot social topic since the 18th CPC National Congress was held in 2012. These refer to two centenaries - that of the founding of the CPC in 2021, and the founding of the People's Republic of China in 2049.

In order to understand the importance of the upcoming CPC National Congress, we should first take a look at these two "centenaries," as they will show us what makes China what it is today, what is taking place in the country right now, and what is likely to emerge in the future.

The CPC will celebrate its 100th anniversary in five years. It has set a clear goal to be achieved before that day arrives - building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects. In many people's eyes, despite various difficulties encountered along the way, that particular goal will surely be achieved, leaving the CPC the other goal as the focus for the upcoming congress.

How can we go about understanding the 100 years of New China founded in 1949? First, we should review events in the past six decades, which can be generally divided into the specific eras of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the two men with the greatest influence on the country.

To be precise, Mao started to influence the country long before New China was founded. After decades of hard struggle, the CPC re-unified most of the country under Mao's leadership, which is recognized as the most arduous task in modern China's history.

In the first 30 years from 1949, the country established a political system that has remained fundamentally intact, although many details have changed since then.

In this period, China also established its basic economic and social systems through the approach of central planning. Today, there might be disputes over the effects of these systems; however, it's undeniable that they were the necessary result of the domestic and international situation at that time.

They had long-lasting influence on China even after Mao departed, even though some of the influences were perhaps not fully anticipated by their original planners.

It's also undeniable that some grave mistakes were made during Mao's era. For instance, the Great Leap Forward movement (1958-60) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) dealt a heavy blow to the newly-established country.

Deng Xiaoping rose to power in the late 1970s. Deng's era also lasted about 30 years.

In the 1980s, the CPC tried to carry out economic and political reforms simultaneously, but, after some setbacks, it shifted the main focus onto economic development.

In this period, Deng proposed the concept of a "socialist market economy," which later formed the core of Deng Xiaoping theory. Under its guidance, China rebuilt its basic economic system, transforming from a planned economy to a market-based economy, leading to it joining the global economic system.

During the administrations of Deng's successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, China achieved some world-recognized economic miracles, such as maintaining decades of rapid economic growth, growing into the world's second largest economy and the largest trading nation, and lifting hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty.

Progress was achieved in political reform. Many mechanisms we are accustomed to today were created and became the abiding rule during Deng's time. For example, Deng set an age cap and abolished de facto life tenure for leading State officials. He also restored collective leadership and democracy inside the CPC.

However, many of the problems troubling China today also emerged in this period. A major one was the excessive emphasis on economic growth, which many felt had become an obsession. This led to a serious imbalance in economic and social development. Besides, while great focus was given to economic growth, many political problems were ignored, such as corruption and weak rule of law.

China entered its third era after the 18th CPC National Congress was held in 2012, but the transitions in the social development mode had already taken place before that time. During the 10 years of the administration of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, the GDP-obsessed development mode was challenged. The focus shifted more to social progress under the guidance of the Scientific Outlook on Development and the concept of creating a "harmonious society."

In this period, a basic social security system was restored, having fallen apart during the transformation of the planned economy to a market-based one. However, some problems were left unsolved and worsened thereafter. A case in point is the housing market frenzy since the global financial crisis in 2008.

Two landmark events of the third era were the third and fourth plenary sessions of the 18th CPC Central Committee. While the former was dedicated to deepening economic and social reforms in an all-round way, the latter focused on reforms to ensure the building of a socialist country under the rule of law, which is seen as the essential part of China's political reform, although this was not mentioned in the meeting itself.

Several years have passed since the two sessions, how are the goals they set being fulfilled? What progress has been made so far? What needs to be done in the future? These are the issues to be addressed by the forthcoming CPC National Congress.

This is the first of a two-part series.

The author is the director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.

The article was written in Chinese and translated by Chen Xia.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

 

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