China's Party Plenum Gets Behind President at 'Complicated' Time

2019-10-31
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China's President Xi Jinping is shown in a file photo.
China's President Xi Jinping is shown in a file photo.
Reuters

The ruling Chinese Communist Party on Thursday wrapped up a top-level meeting of its Central Committee with a statement praising the leadership of President Xi Jinping at a "complicated" time at home and overseas.

Guided by Xi's personal brand of "socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era," the leadership had "dealt appropriately with two major domestic and international situations," the fourth plenum of the 19th Party Congress said in a communique as it closed, saying this opinion was "unanimously held" at the meeting.

Analysts had told RFA that the ongoing trade war with the United States and months of popular protest in Hong Kong would likely be on the agenda of the secretive meeting that ran from Oct. 28-31 in Beijing.

The communique said that China's national system and state governance system "have many significant advantages, mainly: a centralized and unified party leadership that upholds the party's scientific thought, the maintenance of political stability, and ensuring that the country always moves in a socialist direction."

The ruling party has managed to "organically combine the socialist system with the market economy" while sticking to common ideals, beliefs, values, and morals, it said.

It also ensures that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is absolutely loyal to the party and the people, and effectively safeguards the country's sovereignty, security, and development, maintaining the long-term prosperity of Hong Kong and Macau, the document said.

"This plenum proposes that the party should lead in all things ... and improve the systems that firmly uphold party leadership," it said, saying the task will be fully completed and the full potential of the political system "fully demonstrated" by 2049, 100 years after the founding of the People's Republic of China by then communist leader Mao Zedong.

Part of that task would involve "consolidating and developing the most extensive patriotic united front," it said, in a reference to the party's United Front Work Department, which works to boost support for the ruling party outside its ranks, including among groups, industries, and politicians overseas.

It said the building of an "ecological civilization" is crucial to the sustainable development of the Chinese nation.

Little focus on China's people

Wu Qiang, a former politics lecturer at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, said there was very little plenum business that focused on ordinary people, and that its main theme was affirming the work of the leadership under Xi.

"The political theme wasn't the people, but the Politburo standing committee leaders," Wu said. "It gave us a view of the three-way relationship between the top leadership, the party, and the state."

"That was made very clear in the communique, and that's the only thing that's really worth paying attention to."

A Beijing-based journalist who gave only her surname Wang said the plenum appeared to have been a success for Xi, who recently embarked on an indefinite term as president after the National People's Congress (NPC) nodded through the abolition of presidential term limits.

"To use Xi Jinping's words, this is all about implementing the 'four consciousnesses,' which actually means that everything relies on the core [Xi Jinping], and that there will be a further concentration of power and dictatorship," Wang said.

She said the mention of "modernization" by reports on the plenum had little to do with progressive thinking.

"Actually, it's going in the totally opposite direction from modernization," she said.

Drive toward the left

A history scholar based in Beijing who gave only his surname Zhang agreed.

"The fourth plenum won't be seen as a turning point, but as a propeller that continues to drive us towards the left ... and to greater centralization of power," he said.

The plenum met after the leadership released "morality" guidelines for Chinese citizens requiring them to "defend China's honor" while overseas and treat its national symbols with respect.

Former Guizhou University professor Yang Shaozheng, who was fired outright after he made comments critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party online, said the term "morals" would likely turn out to mean that ordinary Chinese have a moral duty to praise the ruling party and President Xi.

"Here in mainland China, it is a moral requirement for the people to sing the praises of the Chinese Communist Party, and not to oppose its mistakes," Yang said.

National etiquette

The Chinese guidelines call for ‘national etiquette’ for symbolic events like singing the national anthem and raising the national flag, as well as for "civilised" behavior in restaurants, on roads or public transport, or watching a sports competition.

Shortly after taking the helm in 2012, Xi started tightening ideological controls over all aspects of society, including universities, colleges, and schools.

The approach stems from a 2013 article titled "Improving Ideological and Political Work Among Young Teachers in Colleges and Universities," and from Xi's reiteration of the "Seven Taboos" that mustn't be discussed in public by servants of the state, including teachers.

The seven banned topics are: universal values of human rights and democratic, constitutional government; press freedom; civil society; citizens' rights; the historical mistakes of the ruling Chinese Communist Party; the financial and political elite; and judicial independence.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Tam Siu-yin and Fong Tak-ho for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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