China’s Fifth Plenum and its reinterpretation of Socialism
The Fifth Plenum of the 19thCentral Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from October 26 to 30 showed that China has reinterpreted socialism in the “New Era” of global uncertainties and external challenges.
The Plenum was marked by “an important speech” delivered by CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping and a communique formally released by the CPC’s Central Committee on October 29. The communique made two “important assessments,” one visionary objective, six main targets, one core position, and eleven “significant measures.”
The two assessments were that the thirteenth five-year plan is almost completed with the expectation of achieving “an affluent society,” thereby making a crucial step forward in the achievement of the “great Chinese renaissance” and a rising “socialist China.”
The visionary objective is to achieve basically the realization of the PRC’s socialist modernization by 2035.
The six main targets embrace “the effectiveness of achieving economic development, making new progress in reforms, elevating the standard of societal civilization, realizing progress in ecological civilization, reaching a new standard in the people’s livelihood and well-being, and improving the standard of the nation’s governing capacity.”
The core position is to insist in the nation’s modernization and construction work creatively, utilizing technology as a “strategic pillar of self-sufficiency, self-strengthening, and national development.” China must meet the challenges of “making progress in the world’s technological advancement, waging economic battles, dealing with the nation’s needs for talents, coping with the public health of citizens, deepening of the implementation of technological education, improving the nation’s innovative system, and accelerating the construction of a technologically strong nation.”
The eleven measures taken by the PRC include the promotion of the productive and economic sectors; the construction of a large domestic market; the deepening of reforms and the socialist market mechanisms; the development of agriculture and villages; the coordination of new towns and the better design of national space; the prosperous development of cultural enterprises so as to “elevate the nation’s cultural soft power;” the promotion of the ecology, harmony and coexistence between human beings and nature; the realization of high-quality openness and external cooperation; the improvement of the people’s necessities and the quality of goods so as to “elevate the standard of societal construction;” the leadership and construction of a high level of peaceful China through better coordination and security; and the acceleration of national defense and military modernization so that China would “unify a wealthy country with a strong military.” A strong military will be the target of national achievement by 2027, combining military preparedness with the objective of defending the PRC as a strategic national interest.
All these eleven measures will be expected to stimulate the inner circulation of the economy while contributing to the outer circulation.
On October 30, Han Wenxiu, the executive deputy director of the General Office of the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission (CFEAC), revealed the details of the drafting process of the 14thfive-year plan. A drafting group of the 14thfive-year plan, which was set up by the CPC Politburo in March 2020, has been chaired by CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping and it has already come up with strategic directions and leading thoughts. Other members of the group include Premier Li Keqiang, Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning, and Han himself. From March to October, the spirit and the main ideas of the 14thfive-year plan were formulated after General Secretary Xi held two Politburo meetings, three Politburo Standing Committee meetings, and two drafting group sessions. Through inspection visits, General Secretary Xi listened to the views of many people from all walks of life, including the Central Committee’s solicitation of almost one million people’s views on the Internet relating to their suggestions on the 14thfive-year plan.
Han unveiled five main principles in the drafting of the 14th Five-year plan. First, there is a necessity of “managing properly the relations between continuation and innovation so as to converge with the objectives of achieving the CPC’s first ‘one hundred years’ and making transition to the second ‘one hundred years.’” Second, there is a need to “manage better the relations between the government and the market so as to unleash China’s systemic advantages.” Third, there is the necessity of managing better “the relationships between openness and self-sufficiency” and “coordinating better the domestic and international situation.” Fourth, the PRC needs to “manage better the relations between development and security so as to deal with the systemic risks of affecting the progress of modernization.” Fifth, there is a need to manage better “the relations between strategies and tactics so that both can be visionary, practical and feasible.”
The content of the communique and the main principles of the 14thfive-year plan have demonstrated new political characteristics, including the prominence of the efforts at reinterpreting Chinese socialism.
First and foremost, the meticulous process of formulating the 14thfive-year plan has indicated “democratic centralism,” with an extensive public consultation and a long process of the gestation of main ideas, spirit, and principles. The element of centralism overrides democratic consultation and deliberation. General Secretary Xi chairs the drafting group with the active participation of Premier Li Keqiang and ideological designer Wang Huning.
Second, the five principles as revealed by Han carry the strong overtone of how to consolidate China’s governance in the CPC’s two “one hundred years.” The relations between continuation and innovation, the government and the market, openness and self-sufficiency, development and security, and between strategies and tactics reveal not only the dialectical thinking of China’s socialist planners but also their pragmatic way of ensuring the longevity of the CPC rule, of winning the hearts and minds of the peoples, and of realizing the Chinese dream and Chinese renaissance. The five principles are characterized by political, economic, and pragmatic assertiveness, with the ultimate objective of perfecting governance from time to time.
Third, the first principle of managing better the relations between continuation and innovation perhaps reveals that the PRC’s ideological planners may need more time to refine socialism. In the Deng Xiaoping era, socialism was interpreted as not only reform openness and gradual marketization, but also the necessity of allowing some places and people to get rich quicker than others. Deng said that socialism was not equivalent to poverty, meaning that the PRC would have to conquer and eliminate poverty. The Fifth Plenum on October 29 mentioned one of the achievements of the 13thfive-year plan, namely the elimination of 5.75 million people from their poverty. If poverty can be eliminated, one would expect that the PRC’s 14thfive-year plan would perhaps mention that China is entering an “advanced” stage of socialism rather than a “primary” stage of socialism. Interestingly, on October 30, the Fifth Plenum still referred to the PRC’s 2035 vision as “practicing its good internal capability in the period of the primary stage of socialism.” Neither the communique nor the five principles mentioned that China is now entering the stage of “advanced” socialism. In other words, the PRC’s ideological planners may take some more time to ponder when and how to advance Chinese socialism further, if the mainland remains in “the primary stage of socialism.”
Fourth, still, the communique and the five principles have reinterpreted Chinese socialism in a highly pragmatic manner. Jiang Jinquan, a 61-year old right-hand man of Wang Huning, is now the new head of the Central Policy Research Office. Jiang said on October 30 that the CPC has achieved the full support of the citizens with 95 percent popularity rate, that the CPC’s strong leadership is the “prominent advantage” in containing Covid-19 and promoting economic growth, and that China would face “very complex international circumstances” during the period of 14thfive-year plan and beyond. If so, Jiang as the new ideological planner, and his think tank members believe that since the PRC is going to face tremendous external challenges in the coming years, how to consolidate the CPC’s effective governance is on top of the priority of the policy agenda. As such, the content of the communique, including its eleven measures, and the five principles of the 14thfive-year plan basically aim at strengthening the CPC governance and longevity through policy-oriented pragmatism. If Deng Xiaoping was punctuated by his pragmatism over ideology, the current PRC leaders and planners are characterized by a mix of ideological continuity and pragmatism.
Fifth, socialism has been reinterpreted as a strategy of governance, which includes a whole range of concrete policy measures to boost the economy and tackle the people’s livelihood, and a complete set of policies coping with internal and external contradictions that impinge on the PRC governance. The contradictions between continuity and innovation, socialist government and market mechanisms, reform openness and economic self-sufficiency, and between development and national security can be seen in the five principles of the 14thfive-year plan. China’s ideological planners have already sharply identified these contradictions in a dialectical way so that solutions are sought, and that its governance will be strengthened further.
Sixth, the pragmatic aspects of China’s socialist modernization can also be seen in the communique’s emphasis on maintaining the economic prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macau, while mentioning the need to “promote the peaceful development of cross-strait relations and national reunification.” The Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan media have neglected the important message on “the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.” Yet, the PRC’s priority is to deal with the question of Taiwan’s future in a peaceful manner, even though military exercises have been conducted frequently in the coastal regions of the mainland in recent months. Outside observers may have forgotten the remarks of President Xi Jinping and the former President Jiang Zemin, who once said that “the Chinese do not fight the Chinese.”
In short, the content of the Fifth Plenum’s communique and the five principles of the 14thfive-year plan unveil how the PRC leaders and planners have reinterpreted socialism pragmatically. Ideologically, China perhaps remains in the “primary” stage of socialism as time will be needed to reformulate the theory of socialism further amid tremendous global uncertainties and external challenges. Pragmatically, the PRC is utilizing all means to strengthen its governance and forge ahead with the vision of realizing the Chinese dream and renaissance.