Interview: ‘The Core Will Now Dictate Everything’


2020-11-03
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china-baotong-july182016.jpg Former top Chinese Communist Party official Bao Tong is shown in a file photo.
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The official Chinese Communist Party (CCP) media are singing the praises of last week’s fifth plenum of the Central Committee of the 19th Party Congress. I, too, think that it was a historic plenum, on a par with the Zunyi conference and the third plenum of the 11th Party Congress. Except of course that the latter two conferences overturned the existing order, while this one paves the way for an era in which [CCP general secretary Xi Jinping at] the core will dictate everything.

Just a month earlier, something unusual had already happened. On Sept. 30, the Politburo announced it was [revising] the Regulations on the Work of the Central Committee, with immediate effect. What did that mean? It meant that there would be no room for error during the fifth plenum of the Central Committee, which would have to follow this new rule.

To sum up, it was now the job of the Central Committee to: 1. Resolutely safeguard general secretary Xi Jinping as the core leader; and 2. Resolutely safeguard the centralized power and authority of the Central Committee.

That this mantra has been taken up by the CCP media clearly dictates that this latest plenum, and all subsequent plenums, shall do as they are told by the core leader, Xi Jinping, who will decide everything.

This is the same phrase used by [then supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping when he met with incoming general secretary Jiang Zemin following the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. This doctrine gradually gained currency until it was finally published in Deng Xiaoping’s Selected Works. Now, the Mandate of Heaven has passed to general secretary Xi Jinping, and become enshrined in the procedural rules governing the Central Committee. Not bad!

Just think, if they had had that clause back during the Long March, or just after Mao Zedong died, the Zunyi Conference might never have happened. The third plenum of the 11th Party Congress might never have taken place.

Now that it has been put into practice during the fifth plenum of the 19th Party Congress, there will be no more need of checks and balances like the guidelines “On the Protection of Different Opinions” penned by [Xi’s father and veteran revolutionary] Xi Zhongxun, that still resonates with me today.

My suggestion is that we hear less from the core, and preferably nothing at all.

Confucius said it well: Season follows season, and all things are born and grow, with never a word from Heaven.

That is my first thought.

I’m sure that the communique issued after the fifth plenum was full of profound and important principles. I have to confess that I haven’t been able to understand it.

I read that China has hundreds of super-wealthy people, who have attracted the attention of the rest of the world.

Not only that, there will be no poor people left by the end of the year; in just two months’ time.

What I don’t understand is how the 800 million or so people who still make less than 2,000 yuan a month are going to carry on living their low-income lives.

I hear that the government is working hard on supply-side reforms. What I don’t know is whether such reforms are actually needed, amid the new-found fervor for state economy expansion and private sector contraction.

I have no idea how or if the private economy will be able to operate independently, nor how they expect to grow the domestic economy when people's pockets are empty.

I am totally in favor of a role for the market in the allocation of resources; what eludes me is how this will be implemented in practice.

And I am really struggling to understand how they hope to achieve total marketization with international recognition in the absence of the rule of law.

My second thought is that there is one line I do understand in all the confusion. It’s in the recommendations section of the fifth plenum communique titled “Planning,” and it strikes me as crucial.

It reads: “By 2035,  we will have established the rule of law to which the entire country, government and society will be subject.”

This echoes a joint announcement by the CCP Central Committee and the State Council back in December 2015, which outlined steps for the implementation of “government under the rule of law.” It promised to have government by rule of law basically established by 2020.

Taking these two documents together, I conclude firstly that this plenum has confirmed that the promise made five years ago hasn’t been kept, and secondly that the promise to establish rule of law in China won’t be kept by 2035 either, and that the government will be unable to properly implement this country’s constitution. There will be no equality before the law.

This government is only capable of selective law enforcement, and the countless laws currently on the statute books are only there to fool some of the people, and only apply to some of the people.

My second thought is a merely personal conclusion. I call on the government to end selective law enforcement, and to govern in a constitutional manner, making everyone equal before the law.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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