In this series of articles my goal is draw attention to key points that have been made by Xi Jinping in his 65 page speech to members of the Communist Party of China.
The speech was made in 2017 but remains a key document that deserves study. People may say that Covid-19 has changed everything. Actually No. Covid-19 has been a significant national and international event with serious consequences in terms of loss of life and economic hardship. And in due course the Party will conduct its own investigation into how the infection came about and how it was handled but the principles that permeate Xi’s policy setting speech are not undermined or diminished by the pandemic. More about China and the pandemic in a later article because it raises questions about governance
For the present I want to say more about the Party and the Party members so let me again draw attention to the words used by Xi in his speech:-
“Never forget why you started, and you can accomplish your mission. The original aspiration and the mission of Chinese Communists is to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation. This original aspiration, this mission, is what inspires Chinese Communists to advance. In our Party, each and every one of us must always breathe the same breath as the people, share the same future, and stay truly connected to them. The aspirations of the people to live a better life must always be the focus of our efforts. We must keep on striving with endless energy towards the great goal of national rejuvenation.”
The goal for Party members is not Marxism-Leninism or Class Struggle. It is quite different – it is enable the people “live a better life”. For sure the Party is a Communist Party and not Conservative or Social-Democratic. It is not a product of the Westminster Model of Parliamentary Sovereignty and yet its purpose, its raison d’etre is to bring about prosperity, to raise living standards and the quality of life. A diet of political struggle does not work – it was tried in the Cultural Revolution and it failed. People want an outcome for their endeavours not endless political struggle.
But the Party has to be assertive: it does lead. But leadership does not come from appointment but from example. Be modest. Always listen. Win the respect of the People and then lead and carry China forward. You may recall in the first Comment I recalled the comment “Mao saved China; Deng saved the Economy; Xi saved the Party”. There is a dictum cited by Historians “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Corruption was not rampant but it was widespread. If people with power apply their power in pursuit of private goals – money, life style, pushing your children forward, enjoying preferential treatment, living in superior accommodation – the umbilical cord between Party and People will be broken. Corruption comes in many guises and one example is illuminating. There was an earthquake in the 1990’s in Sichuan Province. It did much damage to a sizeable village. The destruction was widespread. Few buildings survived. One that did remain standing was the Block that housed senior party members. Why? Because their building was made with stronger structures. Corruption is not just a percentage off the top or a 5% backhander. It comes wherever there is power and the solution is not to curb the power but to change the mentality of the people exercising the power. Hence there is much focus and training and education on basic personal principles and the highlighting of the requirement “”to serve the people”.
Xi wrote about corruption shortly after being elected as President. He elevated its importance to number one and said that the People would turn against the Party if the Party did not attack corruption. He set up a new Commission – it was composed of Party members and its function was to expose Party members who had become corrupt. Critics of China dismissed its exalted purpose and said that it was just a tactic of Xi to eliminate his rivals. On a visit to Beijing with the leading UK jurist, Lord Woolf, there was discussion among our group as to whether the Commission – being composed of Party officials – would be conflicted because they were investigating allegedly corrupt Party officials. No one offered to ask the question. It fell to me at a Lunch at the Diayoutai Guest House hosted by a then member of the Politburo to raise the matter. The host was not happy. “Any person who interferes in Corruption investigations will be dealt with very sternly.” Lord Woolf quietly said to me with understatement– “I think we have the answer. Don’t mess with the investigators”.
One of the reasons for the existence of corruption is the absence of a free press. China, unlike the West, does not permit independent journalists to carry out investigations into Party activities. It is regarded as an anti-China activity. And it can, of course, become that but it is not an answer, for example, to the Watergate exposure or the T Dan Smith/Poulson corruption in the North of England in the 1970’s or the Maxwell manipulation of his employees pensions in the UK. So the Party set up its own Commission with wide ranging powers and reminds party members that engaging in corrupt practices carries serious terms of imprisonment if found guilty. Punishment is a disincentive but a better way to deal with the challenge is to work hard to discourage any party members from thinking it is right to abuse their position and fatten their life style.
The Party will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. It has considerable experience. Its leadership is far from the “faceless apparatchiks” portrayed by the Western media. It is composed of highly qualified individuals who aspire to membership. Prof Mahbubani cited the example of a bright young research assistant who worked for him while he was on a sabbatical at Columbia University in the US. She had wanted to be the top student in her School in order to qualify for membership of the CPC. She came second and did not qualify for membership and was depressed. She tried again when at University and came top and joined the Party. She was thrilled. Only the best qualify for the Party and repeat that process across 87m people and you have an explanation for much of China’s achievements in lifting 500m citizens out of poverty and making China the second largest economy in the world.
In a colourful phrase in his speech Xi says that the Party is committed to “examining ourselves, in the mirror, tidying our attire, taking a bath and treating our ailments”. The focus is on: “The Three Stricts and the Three Earnests”. The former requires Party members to be strict with themselves in practicing self-cultivation, using power and exercising self-discipline. And further requires them individually to be earnest in their thinking, in their work and in their behaviour.
It adds up to a challenging question – Who would you like to govern China? – Trump’s Republican Party or Xi’s Communist Party.