Summary: the Implications of the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress




The Implications of the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress

Prepared By Paul Scammacca

Edited by Miaoqiang Dai


On Friday, November 3, 2017, academic scholars from the U.S., China, and Europe spoke via online chat to discuss the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and what the new constitution entails. The participants in the discussion; which was broadcasted live and held in the Lewis Katz Building room 241 in Pennsylvania State University, consisted of: Professor Patricia Thornton from the University of Oxford who currently serves as the Chair of the Sub-Faculty of Politics and International Relations; Professor Larry Backer, Professor of Law and International Affairs at the Pennsylvania State University; Dr. Flora Sapiro who is currently serves as a board member at FLIA; Dr. Sun Ping, the Vice Researcher at the Center for Rule of Law in China, East China University of Political Science and Law; Keren Wang who is a Ph.D. candidate in Rhetoric with Social Thought Minor at Pennsylvania State University; Yuhua Sun who has a Ph.D., East China University of Political Science and Law; and finally, Shan Gao who is a researcher as well as a program associate for the immigration Pro Bono project Know your Rights, An Information Guide to the Basics of New York State Legal System at The Coalition for Peace and Ethics. While each participant spoke, Miaoqiang Dai from Pennsylvania State University, who is a Master of International Affairs ’19 candidate and serves as the president of the Research and Career Development Network for Law and International Affairs, had mediated this discussion. This roundtable conference was sponsored by: Penn State Law; Penn State School of International Affairs; Coalition for Peace and Ethics; Foundation for Law & International Affairs; and Research Career Development Network of Law and International Affairs.

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China had concluded in Beijing on October 24, 2017. The Congress proclaimed to advance the development of the guiding ideology of China’s governing system, the theme of this development (Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era) was introduced by Xi Jinping as the primary theme of the Report given on October 17, 2017. In order to enact said theme into the political, legal, economic, societal, and cultural life of the state, the 19th CCP approved many amendments to the political constitution of the People’s Republic of China. On October 24, 2017, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China adopted a resolution on the Constitution of the Communist Party of China, effective immediately. This revision represents a vital initiation in the evolution of the political constitution of China, defining the vanguard party’s program, organization system, party members, party discipline, etc. The revisions of the Constitution of the CCP are important in leastwise two respects; first, the changes to the “General Program” of the CCP Constitution extends the political theory which guides the CCP in its leadership role; other provisions to the organization of the institution of the Communist Party are conceivably noteworthy. The key pillars to watch may encompass the new provisions regarding inspection tours (art. 14), which will play a major role in going forwards in disciplining CCP organizations. It is through this document that the Chinese political class constructs meaning from words, and sets the boundaries and forms of discourse. Failure to understand what was stated throughout the document will make interpretation more difficult for foreigners who tend to push their own ideological language constructs onto the Chinese system. It is imperative to understand the work product of the 19th CCP Congress and its likely effects on China’s law, politics, and economics, from a domestic and international perspective. The following summaries from each presenter will explain their opening statements from this conference, on what occurred on the dates of October 18, 2017, to October 24, 2017, in Beijing, China:

Professor Larry Backer stressed the significance how the 19th National Congress marked the profession of Chinese political constitution from one stage of historical development to another. The Deng Xiaoping Era had ended and with that, the start of Xi Jinping’s new era is taking effect in China. As noted by Professor Backer, the documents completed by the 19th National Congress are in fact very complex and will take quite some time to understand what was written, and how it will be implemented in the future. An important element that is seen here is how the work of the Chinese Communist Party is significant, and that has been judged by past congresses. As said by Professor Backer, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era signals not just the end of an era, but the intent to transform Chinese politics, law, economics, and societal relationships under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, both at home and abroad to soothe these changing conditions…” Throughout Professor Backer’s opening statements, this new movement (Xi Jinping’s New Era), will change the basic language of Chinese politics along with thoroughly changing the governance that had once existed in China; primarily in the roles of the public and private sectors. The class struggle within socialist modernization will be reconstituted and rather than having a priority of mere production, it will be generalized in a ‘people-centered’ philosophy of augmentation. While the reports from Xi Jinping exemplify how the direction of the political class will set boundaries and forms of discourse, Professor Backer feels it is imperative to focus on a certain issue and those technicalities so that this may be used as a guide, to help explain the “empty observational vessel” that was conferred at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

Professor Thornton believed that the “new era” is built on the “old era” however there is also a detachment of a foundation that had been established by Deng Xiaoping (and Jiang Zemin’s 3 Representatives, Hu Jintao’s scientific development thought). One thing that Professor Thornton had noticed was that there was no sense of a need for political institutional reform. Interestingly, due to the fact that in previous congressional reforms, there was originally many innuendos of separating the party and state. Now in both the work report along with resolution, the focal point seems to be primarily on the party, the party’s management, and the party’s control over the political and economic institutions in the future. Furthermore, there has been an all-around downshifting in the importance of the state constitution and the governance of it, this caught the attention of Professor Thornton because; “These are terms that were important to Xi Jinping in the first few months of his leadership, but they seem to almost disappear in the work report and resolution coming at the end of the Congress.” A central ideology that is significant is the recognition of the new principal contradiction in society, they had redefined the chief contradiction in society since the Deng era. This contradiction had been addressed as the inequality between the standards of livelihood and economic development, this will lead to an intensified focus on attempting to communize the externalities of development primarily in rural areas; due to the rapid progression of China’s economy, which had left a gap in the rising general coefficient in society.

Dr. Sapio felt that there will be a significant reconstruction of the interpolate involving the public and private sectors, along with a change in the governance mechanism that had been previously instituted. Professor Thornton had mentioned about the lack of emphasis on the state constitution, however, Dr. Sapio believed that this was justified by the accelerating importance of the government mechanisms that are equally important as the law. An important point in Xi Jinping’s report and the revision of the constitution is the emphasis on the reformation of the State supervision system. According to Dr. Sapio, that idea had been mentioned in the same paragraph of Xi Jinping’s work report (paragraph 13), where it states that the capacity of the party and state governance should be modernized. We are witnessing a fundamental change in governance with the bolstering of all those institutions and mechanisms, which is needed to utilize a competent oversight of the party and state. There seems to be a shift in governance that was exclusively based on law, to a governance that is increasingly based on an algorithm of the coordination on the public and private sectors. Most likely in a few years’ time, one of the most important measures that will be embraced is the reform of the state supervision system.

Dr. Sun Ping’s statements surround the new principal contradiction and the importance of the “new era.” There were, however, two principal contradictions before the third one which Xi Jinping just presented: 30 years of class struggle; 30 years between ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people, and the backward social production. The main difference between the second and third contradictions is that material and cultural needs essentially means GDP and economic development (while the new principal contradiction put more emphasis on balanced and adequate development). A comment that Dr. Sun Ping made was “From the view of constitutional law, a better life means more protection of fundamental rights…” That remark has to do with the basis of the new era as well as this new principal contradiction that Dr. Sun Ping talks about. Dr. Sun looked at the report and the contradiction and notices that there are increasing demands for democracy, rule of law, fair needs, justice, security, and a safe environment. This all goes back to the idea of protecting the people and the sustainment of the future in China.

Dr. Keren Wang took a similar approach with Dr. Sun Ping’s opening statement, his primary focus was the primary principal contradiction in the party constitution. This contradiction is the gap between the unequal distribution of resources and quality of life. With that economic development does not necessarily lead to a better life. The new age in the party constitution refers to the Leo Straussian era of “neo-conservatism” in the West. For CPC the new constitution is something that can be taken as something that has the “Reagan-Satire” elements, or it is something that tries to navigate a way out of that “neo-liberalism” ideology. However, this goes back to the primary contradiction and if not properly addressed, this could potentially lead to a major crisis. Some additional points that Dr. Keren Wang exclaimed from the 19th National Congress that he found interesting were; old habits were broken and the constitution assumed new rules of power transition, and the new academic member in the standing committee is unorthodox due to the lack of any local governance experience.

Dr. Yuhua Sun’s opening statement begun with the introduction of the article Replace “Shuanggui” by More Legal Measures he wrote earlier this year. In that article, Dr. Yuhua discussed the necessity of replacing the long-standing “Shuanggui” with some other measures for party discipline. Such an idea was also submitted by Dr. Yuhua to the decision-making circle by brief reports. Even though the supervision committee did not want to give up “Shuanggui” as a power, it is interesting that the 19th National Congress Report of CPC officially announced that to replace “Shuanggui” by “Liuzhi” (detention). Dr. Yuhua argued that what’s important now for China is that how to ensure that “Luzhi” (detention) will not become a new “Shuanggui”. When conducting “Liuzhi” (detention), the disciplinary organs must protect fundamental rights of those persons under investigation, they should have the access to adequate compensation if their interests were damaged during the process of “Liuzhi” (detention).

Dr. Shan Gao was the last participant of the discussion to give opening statement and believed that the main theme of the 19th Party Congress is the “new era.” This was not only exemplified by the technological achievements and economic performances of the past few years but expressed institutional reforms since the 18th Party Congress. Going more into that, the Party Constitution amendment laid out new ideological foundation to guide China, this would signify the party’s commitment to the founding principle of “Marxism-Leninism.” According to Dr. Gao, the new party resolution emphasized the principles of party leadership overwork, this is deeply embedded with a ‘people-centered’ approach. Dr. Gao also believed that the 19th Party Congress created a blueprint to implement short-term and long-term principals in the “new era”. The short-term plan is by the year 2020, there will be a moderately prosperous society in all metrics. The long-term plan, however, has the idea that China will be a great “modern socialist country” as part of the middle centenary development from 2020-2035. Dr. Gao finished his statements by explaining how the centenary goal will be realized, the Party would accentuate strategies in different areas: economic development, this will prioritize quality over quantity (quality growth), and effective market mechanisms with macro-regulations to promote competitiveness in the Chinese economy; also, the idea of globalization, building a global community with a shared future for the cause of peace and development for all humanity.

Once each participant of this conference gave their five-minute opening statements, they were each allowed to respond to another participant, either agreeing or disagreeing a claim that was previously made. Professor Backer was intrigued by Professor Thornton and Dr. Sapio’s reference to the difference in which the state constitution was valued in this report and the others. Professor Backer responded to this about how Xi Jinping referenced the constitutions and said: “I counted eleven times in the report that Xi Jinping mentioned the constitution of those; five of the eleven were references to the party constitution, three were references to the state constitution, and three of them were mixed…” He went on to explain that the mixed references mention how there is a lot of encouragement to hold the party constitution in high regards. Professor Larry Backer also made the remarks that the old way is gone because corruption was part of the old era, and how many references to the constitution in the reports by Xi Jinping start with the word “we.” Professor Thornton was the next to make a response and still thought that the relationship between the party and law is shifting. Along with that there is no clear stipulation of party to law or the state constitution and thinks that the state constitution would be excluded in the future. Following Professor Thornton, Dr. Sapio still believed that the adoption of governance is prevalent in the reports that were given during the 19th National Congress. With that the acknowledgment of law playing a major role in the governance of China. Dr. Sun Ping continued to argue that the new principal contradiction is very important in the “new era.” In addition, the differentiation between the party and the state constitution had become distinctive. Dr. Keren Wang said that it is important for us to know how the leaders of China see the historical juncture at present. He was also curious at the kind of ‘strongman’ position Xi Jinping will have for his second term, and how he will react to a potential crisis that might occur during the “new age.” Dr. Sun Yuhua thought that there is an opportunity to change the culture and promote the awareness of law becase the fact being that in the past, people could not rely on lawyers to protect their basic rights. He also believed that this constitution protects the authority of the party and unsure what that can mean in the future. Dr. Shan Gao noticed that the party constitution uses a specific term that had once meant “assistance” in the Chinese language and now means “governance.” Another point that had caught the attention of Dr. Gao was that in the old party constitution, there was a sense of everyone was equal before the part of discipline; and now the new constitutional amendment removed that part from the democratic centralism piece. After Dr. Gao had given his response, there were no other responses made by the other participants of the discussion.

Professor Larry Backer had closed the successful roundtable conference by thanking everyone who attended the conference in person and online via media site. Along with showing gratitude to the public, Professor Backer took the time to thank the speakers at this roundtable whose viewpoints could possibly be the start of many conversations in the near future. Professor Larry Backer once more thanked everyone on behalf of the sponsors: Penn State Law; Penn State School of International Affairs; Coalition for Peace and Ethics; Foundation for Law and International Affairs; and Research and Career Development Network of Law and International Affairs, in hopes that this roundtable discussion will provoke many subsequent conversations due to the new developments transpiring in China.