Jayadeva Ranade  November 2015

                                                                                                                                             Dated: November 4, 2015
                              CHINA: THE FIFTH PLENUM OF THE 18TH CCP CC (OCT 26-29, 2015)’
                                                                     by JAYADEVA  RANADE

The 4-day (October 26-29, 2015) eighth session of the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s Central Committee (CC)’s Fifth Plenum has, as expected, further strengthened and consolidated Party General Secretary Xi Jinping’s authority and position. The 5,923-character Communique issued promptly after the Fifth Plenum on October 29, 2015, exuded confidence as it firmly set out the path for reforms with the focus on all-round development and asserted China’s goals for the next five years including that of “building a moderately prosperous society by 2020”. There were, interestingly, few references to ‘stability’ despite the steadily growing number of popular protests which China officially estimates at more than 500 each day, and the ‘Chinese Dream’ unveiled by Xi Jinping at the 18th Party Congress in November 2012 was enshrined in the Plenum Communique.
The Fifth Plenum of a CC traditionally discusses and approves the crucial issue of leadership appointments. This includes nomination of Party cadres for elevation to top Party and military posts at the next Party Congress, in this case the 19th Party Congress due in 2017.  In view of the slowdown of the economy and recent hiccup in the stock market attributed to manipulations including by “foreign investors”, this plenary session also deliberated on economic issues including approval of the Thirteenth Five Year Plan (2016-2020). 199 Central Committee members and 156 alternate Central Committee members attended the Plenum which was presided over by CCP CC General Secretary Xi Jinping. Exhibiting responsibility for the Thirteenth Five Year Plan (2016-2020), Xi Jinping also gave the “Explanation” of the “Proposals” of the Discussion Draft to the Plenum.
In a strong suggestion that leadership issues would be discussed, the state-run Global Times on October 8, 2015, just days before the Fifth Plenum convened in a Beijing hotel, publicised a very unusual report posted on a Wechat site operated by the Party-owned Beijing Daily. Applauding Xi Jinping’s initiative in effecting personnel reshuffles and launching the severe anti-corruption campaign, the state-run Global Times quoted Zhang Xixian, a Professor with the Central Party School, as saying "The large-scale reshuffle helped select leaders of both action and bravery, as China needs such leaders to tackle the economic problems and ensure a strong start during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period." The Wechat post on the Beijing Daily website disclosed that “more than half of the CCP CC members selected during the 18th Party Congress in 2012 have been moved to different positions or were removed from their current jobs ahead of the Fifth plenary session”. Asserting that such a “large-scale reshuffle is extremely rare in the history of the CCP, a result, said observers of the anti-graft campaign, which has been of unprecedented severity”, the WeChat post “revealed that a total of 104 out of the 205 CPC Central Committee members have been promoted, demoted or expelled from their positions since 2012”.

Illustrative is the unprecedentedly vigorous and intensive anti-corruption campaign steered by the Party’s Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) led by Xi Jinping’s school friend, fellow ‘princeling’ and Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member 67-year old Wang Qishan. It has penetrated the deepest corners of the Party, government and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and felled over a hundred senior cadres of the level of central Vice Minister or Minister. Reports have disclosed that a total of 4,300 officers, or 30% of the PLA's officer cadre, have been arrested, or placed under investigation, on charges of corruption.  This includes dozens of Generals.

Since his appointment in November 2012, Chinese President and Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has rapidly consolidated his authority and appointed loyalists to crucial posts. He has emerged as the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong and today overshadows all others in the 7-member PBSC.  His authority is set to be further boosted with the Fifth Plenum approving the promotion of cadres selected by Xi Jinping. While he will try and promote his nominees to the 373-member CC to build an enduring power base and ensure elevation of his protégés to the Politburo (PB) and PBSC at the 19th Party Congress in 2017, Xi Jinping might quite possibly try to replace those retiring from the Politburo (PB) with a couple of his nominees belonging to the successor sixth generation. There is speculation in Beijing that the Fifth Plenum was to consider approving an extension for 67-year old Wang Qishan, CDIC Chairman and PBSC member and allow him to continue in the 19th PBSC.

Decisions on some important appointments in China’s military establishment, including cases relating to at least three ‘princelings’, are due. The plenary session will need to decide on whether to now replace present PLA Navy (PLAN) Commander Admiral Wu Shengli, a ‘princeling’ who has reached 70 years which is the retirement age for a CMC member, or retain him till 2017. There has additionally been persistent speculation – in fact since the 18th Party Congress – of the elevation to the apex Central Military Commission (CMC) of General Liu Yuan, Political Commissar of the PLA’s General Logistics Department (GLD) and son of former Chinese President Liu Shaoqi. General Liu Yuan, who has spoken out strongly against corruption in the PLA even before the 18th Party Congress, is a close friend of Xi Jinping and, like him, a ‘princeling’. His promotion could mean either expansion of the CMC or creation of a new position in it. There is speculation also that 65-year old General Zhang Youxia, also a ‘princeling’ and close friend of Xi Jinping, is likely to be elevated at the next Party Congress in 2017 to the CMC as Vice Chairman. Zhang Youxia, a hardliner on issues concerning national sovereignty and territory and a staunch advocate of equipping the PLA with advanced defence technology and equipment, is one of the few PLA officers at that level with actual battle experience having fought in the Sino-Vietnam war in 1979. Xi Jinping’s father Xi Zhongxun and Zhang Youxia’s father General Zhang Zongxun also worked together in 1947 in the PLA’s Northeast Army Corps as Political Commissar and Commanding Officer respectively.

While decisions on leadership appointments will largely be under wraps till the next Party Congress, the 5,923-character Communique issued after the Fifth Plenum formally approved the PB’s elevation of Central Committee Alternate Members Liu Xiaokai (DOB: 1962), Chen Zhirong (DOB: 1957) and Jin Zhenji (DOB: 1959) as full Central Committee members. All three are ethnic minority cadres belonging to the Miao, Li and Korean ethnic minorities respectively. The Plenum also accorded formal approval to the CDIC’s report “concerning grave disciplinary violations” of Ling Jihua, Zhou Benshun, Yang Dongliang, Zhu Mingguo, Wang Min, Chen Chuanping, Chou He, Yang Weize, Pan Yiyang and Yu Yuanhui, and endorsed the PB’s decision expelling Ling Jihua, Zhou Benshun, Yang Dongliang, Zhu Mingguo, Wang Min, Chen Chuanping, Chou He, Yang Weize, Pan Yiyang and Yu Yuanhui from the Party.

The Thirteenth Five Year Plan (2016-2020) is important for China as it will cover the crucial stage when China crosses the "middle-income trap" to a higher stage of development. It comes at a time of growing economic difficulty and when official Chinese estimates are that approximately between US$ 300bn to US$ 400bn could be “illegally” taken out of China in 2015 reflecting continued lack of confidence in the country’s economy. The official "2015 Graduate Study Abroad Situation Report" also revealed that the proportion of Chinese students returning compared to the numbers leaving China for foreign study has climbed steadily over the past 15 years and has now reached 75%. It added, however, that “many students are having great difficulty finding employment from which they can earn a good income, especially difficult since they had to send so much money for tuition overseas.  Eighty percent of the returned students earn less than 10,000 RMB per month”. The article concludes that “this situation is making students and their families look at graduate study abroad more critically and to realize that they shouldn't just do to go along with a fad”.

These issues were discussed at the Fifth Plenum together with probably lowering of China's growth target, accelerating state-sector reforms and redoubling efforts to reduce pollution. To invite public attention to the Thirteenth Five Year Plan (shisanwu) the CCP CC’s Propaganda Department took the unusual step of releasing a quick-tempo animated cartoon video. Earlier in September, the CCP CC’s Propaganda Department issued a notice (No: 320 of 2015) to the People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency, Guangming Daily, Economic Daily, China Daily, China National Radio, China Central Television, China Radio International, China News Service, and subordinate media outlets listing ‘guidelines’ for reporting on economic issues. The ‘guidelines’ instructed them to “continue to deepen their study and transmission of the spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s series of important speeches, revolving around the strategic positioning of the “Four Comprehensives” combined with deep concern for public opinion”. It explained that the ‘guidelines’ were intended to strengthen economic propaganda and channel public opinion preparatory to promoting the discourse on “China’s bright economic future and the superiority of China’s system, as well as stabilizing expectations and inspiring confidence”. The official media was asked to: (i) properly interpret economic data by using reports of the National Bureau of Statistics, the China Banking Regulatory Commission, and other relevant organizations; (ii) correctly report on new changes in economic market conditions; and (iii) closely follow economic market conditions.

Describing the Thirteenth Five Year Plan (shisanwu) as a “decisive stage” in China’s development, the Plenum communiqué, which as usual omitted details of growth rates or targets that are expected to filter out separately, emphasized the goal of building a “moderately prosperous society by 2020”. There was indication that the campaigns promoting austerity and against corruption would continue. It also pointed to the importance of agricultural modernization and ideological and political work. There was noticeable emphasis on “innovation”, construction of “strategic scientific laboratories” and implementing the “Internet Plus” action plan.

Interesting was the communiqué’s reference to the “new normal” while referring to economic development and call for reduced government interference in the setting of prices. Interestingly, the draft of the Plan posted on government websites and Baidu before the Plenum convened had mentioned that the Renminbi (RMB) would appreciate at 2% annually for each year of the Plan but that portion of the draft has since been deleted. The Plenum simultaneously stressed that economic development “must persist in the dominant position of the people” thereby suggesting that the powerful and wealthy State owned Enterprises (SoE) will continue to have an important role in the national economy. It took positive note of the “relatively rapid and stable economic development and social stability”. Among the important points were: maintaining “a high-medium economic growth rate” which, basing their analysis on the 12th Five Year Plan approved at the NPC, experts assess the Plenum would have approved in the range of between 6.5% to 7%.; doubling the 2010 GDP and average incomes of rural and urban residents by 2020; and “letting industry march to a high-end economic level”. It called for implementation of “China Manufacturing 2025”, which is designed to create more skilled jobs and promote innovation in areas like pharmaceuticals, aerospace and new energy. The Plenum indicated that priority would be given to “implementing a strong network country strategy” and expanding the railway network. Strengthening of the security and military establishments was mentioned.

The Proposals approved by the Plenum did focus on the necessity of curbing emissions, ‘clean’ technologies and a green environment. A cloud was cast over these statements, however, by the disclosures around the same period in the official statistics released by the Chinese government. These asserted that China has actually been consuming 17% more coal each year than reported, translating in to the release in to the atmosphere of almost a billion more tons of carbon dioxide annually. The new figures add about 600 million tons to China’s coal consumption in 2012.

The Plenum Communique also enshrined Xi Jinping’s vision of China’s Dream and insisted there must be “a firm bases for the realization of the second centenary struggle objective and the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

The Plenum document, which fully endorsed the policies and actions of the Party under Xi Jinping’s leadership, concluded with a call to “the entire Party and the people of all ethnicities in the entire country to unite around the Party Centre with Comrade Xi Jinping as General Secretary ever more closely, to have one heart among the ten thousand masses…”!


(The author is President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy and former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.)

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