2017-10-20 12:06:39 Commentary

With some 89.4 million members, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is the largest political party on earth. Since the beginning of the reform and opening-up period in the late 1970s, the Party’s National Congress has increasingly sought to direct each stage of China’s efforts to modernize into the lofty ideal its leaders have long dreamed of.

Anticipation is running high for this year’s congress as the CPC is set to unveil a new development road map and additional reform measures. Further contributing to this atmosphere are strict policies on Party governance being implemented as part of an ongoing crackdown on corruption. Fifteen high-level officials involved in corruption cases were recently disciplined by the Party, having their membership rescinded, falling under increased scrutiny, or losing their job within the organization. Still others have had their cases forwarded to the courts.

The political and professional caliber of this year’s delegation will play a crucial role in deciding what decisions are made at this year’s National Congress. Over a seven-month period, from last November to June of this year, the CPC mobilized its organizational and discipline inspection systems. After undergoing a strict process of nomination and vetting, 2,280 delegates were eventually selected to take part in this year’s congress.

The composition of this year’s delegation highlights the importance the Party attaches to ensuring that delegates represent a wide range of professions, fields of expertise, and geographic regions. This year’s delegates include economists, scientists, defense mavens, politicians, educators, journalists, culture experts, health care specialists, and experts in so-called social management, which mainly includes the police, city management officials, and market supervisors.

Some even hail from village, township, or neighborhood-level management bodies. For example, Zhu Yuguo, the Party secretary of Zengjipan Village in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, has been praised by Chinese state media for raising villagers’ average incomes by nearly 2,000 yuan ($300) in six years. A wide cross-section of organizations are also represented in the delegation, including private and public enterprises, public service departments, official Party organs, and nongovernmental groups.

Though the proportion of female politicians in China remains low, the CPC has been trying to increase the number of women representatives over the years. This year’s delegation includes 30 more women than the last National Congress, and together women comprise 24 percent of total delegates. 

The delegation also reflects the Party’s efforts to boost participation among younger officials and intellectuals. In this year’s delegation, around 70 percent of representatives are under 55 years old — an increase of 5.7 percent from 2012 — and nearly 95 percent of all delegates have received some form of higher education.

The vast majority of delegates — 88 percent — entered the Party after the beginning of the reform and opening-up period. Grassroots-level Party cadres and frontline Party members in nongovernmental jobs also have more representation this year than in years past, many of whose invitations have come at the expense of actual government officials.

The CPC has also reformed the delegate selection process to ensure that participants are representative of the nation as a whole and have the support of their constituents and fellow members. First, the Party ensures that delegates possess so-called correct political views. CPC ideology is based on Marxist theory, and political aptitude remains the foremost criterion for selection. Delegates must demonstrate loyalty to the Party and a firm belief in serving the people through their work and day-to-day behavior. The Party also takes into consideration a potential delegate’s ideals, morals, and accomplishments.

The CPC has placed emphasis on winning the support of the people by creating a leadership core in whose reflection they see something of themselves.

In addition, candidates must show that they are not corrupt. In recent years, the Party has addressed the problem of officials engaged in nefarious activities being nominated as delegates to the National Congress, clamping down on those who secure an invitation through bribery. To this end, the credentials committee subjects each elected delegate to thorough vetting to ensure they meet the admission requirements.

The CPC has also tried to increase representation among Party members who do not work in government. This year, the country’s electoral units were given guidelines and quotas for which kinds of delegates should be nominated, streamlining the electoral process. Party organizations searched for exemplary individuals engaged in grassroots reform, innovation, and poverty relief campaigns. This had the knock-on effect of reducing the proportion of government officials, which has been capped at two-thirds.

Finally, the CPC has strengthened intra-Party democracy. Part of this involves encouraging grassroots Party organizations and members to participate in the delegate nomination process — which actually gels with the Party’s core platform: “Everything is for the masses, everything relies on the masses, everything comes from the masses, and everything goes back into the masses.”

With the 19th National Congress set to begin, the Party has also set its sights on two upcoming anniversaries: the centennial of the founding of the CPC in 2021 and the centennial of the founding of the People’s Republic in 2049. Currently, China hopes to enter the ranks of “moderately developed countries” by the year 2050 — a loose term believed to equate the country’s per capita GDP with those of, say, the central European economies, before later looking to catch up with those of the developed West.

In addition to their domestic effects, China’s development decisions will have a significant impact on the future of the global order. In the last five years, China has already begun to move beyond a singular focus on economic indicators and started to make preparations for the coming “new normal” of slower economic growth — for example, by aiming to improve the supposed quality of economic development and eliminating energy-intensive industries that pollute the environment.

Meanwhile, the Party remains focused on deepening reform, instituting the rule of law, maintaining strict Party governance, and creating a so-called moderately prosperous society (xiaokang shehui). Internationally, China has grown increasingly ambitious, and is now beginning to develop homegrown solutions for some of the major problems confronting the world today — some of which have been touched upon in the much-lauded Belt and Road Initiative.

In order to achieve such sweeping goals, the Party must continue to rely on the capacity for organization, mobilization, and decision-making that has served it well during the reform era so far. This year’s National Congress delegate selection process in many ways reveals the central importance the CPC has placed on further winning the trust and support of the people by creating a leadership core in whose reflection they see something of themselves.

Translator: Kilian O’Donnell; editors: Lu Hua and Matthew Walsh.

(Header image: A girl poses for photographs outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 3, 2013. Bloomberg/VCG)