Governance
How China's Political Leadership Elevates Progress
By Robert Lawrence Kuhn  ·  2021-09-28  ·   Source: NO.39 SEPTEMBER 30, 2021
I have been coming to China for more than 30 years. I have traveled all across the country, visiting over 100 cities together with my long-term partner, Adam Zhu, for research and interviews, books and essays, television and documentaries. I have given much thought, over the years, as to what has brought about China's developmental miracle.

The underlying principles 

One, a people who work hard to improve the lives of their families and the destiny of their country.

Two, the prioritization of economic and social development over ideological rigidity.

Three, a one-party-leadership system, what is called "the multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC)," that enforces political stability and media control, and encourages economic development and social enhancement.

Four, a one-party-leadership system that is structured in hierarchical administrative levels.

Five, a one-party-leadership system that prioritizes selection, training, monitoring and inspection of key personnel, inculcating a high degree of administrative and managerial professionalism.

Six, a one-party-leadership system that solicits, and pays attention to, expert opinion, whether in the CPC or not, as exemplified by the increasing social power of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). (The CPPCC serves as a key mechanism for multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC. Its main functions are to conduct political consultation, exercise democratic supervision and participate in the discussion and the handling of state affairs.—Ed)

Seven, a one-party-leadership system that solicits, and pays attention to, public opinion. 

Eight, the setting of long-term goals, mid-term objectives and short-term policies that are monitored and modified continuously; policies that need long-term commitment have long-term commitment.

Nine, a way of thinking that experiments and tests new policies before implementation and rolling them out.

Ten, a one-party-leadership system that leverages industrial planning and state capital to gain economies of scale and competitive advantage.

Eleven, a one-party-leadership system that provides checks and balances via anti-corruption institutions.

And twelve, a one-party-leadership system that is willing to admit and correct errors.

For the world to understand China, the world must first understand the CPC's way of thinking. In other words, first, why the Party asserts that its continuing political leadership is optimal for China's development, and second, why it asserts that its robustness depends on its adaptability, self-regulation and strict management.

President Xi Jinping, also General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, stresses the theme of not forgetting the Party's original intention and keeping in mind the mission, which, he says, is the self-revolution of the Party under new historical conditions. Xi states that the CPC should be governed by standardized rules and procedures that are open to public oversight. Only by continuously adapting itself, focusing on real-world issues, can the Party construct a truly prosperous society that is sustainable.

Chinese characteristics 

The CPC-led system involves effective feedback mechanisms, such as conducting polls to determine what people think, for example, about proposed new policies. So, even though there are no elections in the Western sense, there is a good deal of feedback from different constituencies. Another example is when officials are nominated to new positions, there is often a period of time reserved for the commentary from colleagues, subordinates and superiors.

Moreover, the work reports of the CPC's leadership at Party congresses every five years, and the work reports of the

government at the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), reflect a great deal of input and suggestions from all relevant officials, experts and constituencies. (The NPC is the highest state organ of power. Its functions range from amending the Constitution to electing the president of China.—Ed)

These work reports are not just what the top leadership puts together for form and ceremony. No, they are drafted by many teams, taking into account the feedback and opinions from numerous officials and experts; the documents circulate iteratively many times over a six-to-eight-month period, or more, of their drafting. My friends in China often ask, why does the world misunderstand the CPC? The problem, I argue, is partly semantics because the English word "party" co-nodes in democratic political systems.

A political party that does not compete in free and open multiparty elections must be exercising its power by enforced authoritarian control. This characterization misinterprets the whole Chinese system, which is founded on a different principle: the CPC is the ruling party, not a competing political party. It is a dedicated elite from all sections of society consisting of just about less than 7 percent of the population, but tasked with representing 100 percent of the population.

For this reason, the CPC, as the perpetual ruling party, has a higher obligation to enhance standards of living and personal wellbeing, which includes reform, rule of law, transparency in government, public participation in governance, increasing democracy, various freedoms, and human rights. To those foreigners who marvel at China's containment of COVID-19, with so few cases and deaths compared to other countries, I would like to point out that the common root of China winning the battle against the contagious coronavirus, and China winning the war against extreme poverty, is the CPC's leadership and organizational capacity. This remarkable parallelism is a probative insight into China's CPC-led governance system.

Today, all political parties and systems come with trade-offs, and while achieving national objectives is indeed an advantage of China's CPC-led system, it is not the only criterion for evaluating systems. This is why continuing reform, opening up, and system improvement are at the top of the agenda.

"Continuing to improve" is the same guiding principle that Xi, then Secretary of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee, told me personally back in 2006. "It is fair to say that we have achieved successes," Xi said at that time. "Nevertheless, we should have a cautious appraisal of our accomplishments. We should never overestimate our accomplishments or indulge ourselves in our achievements." He called for China to aspire to the "next higher goal," and to appreciate "the gap between where we are and where we have to go." He described this as "a persistent and unremitting process."

The author is chairman of the Kuhn Foundation in the U.S. This is an edited excerpt of his speech at the publication ceremony of the book Shared Ideals—The Communist Party of China and Its Cherished Friends From Around the World in Beijing in July

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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