Key to CPC's success? Keeping connected with the people and staying true to its roots

To some speakers, the CPC's status as the ruling party means it should hold its members to a stricter standard than the laws and regulations that ordinary citizens are subject to.

DURING the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, many China watchers expressed amazement at the party’s ability to keep up with the times and continue to inspire with new concepts and catchphrases.

Moreover, many could not but wonder how the CPC has maintained its vitality and led the Chinese people from one spectacular achievement to another.

To answer this question, scholars of party politics from countries including Great Britain, France, Italy and China gathered in Shanghai over the weekend to attend a symposium named “Global Discourse and Chinese Experience,” held under the auspices of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS).

Ross Carroll, a lecturer at the University of Exeter in the UK, said in his speech that political parties in Western countries are weak and yet partisanship is strong.

A growing trend around the world is that party elites are struggling to organize agendas, and even choose candidates for elections.

“Party membership is in decline and traditional parties are threatened by new arrivals, like En Marche! in France,” said Carroll.

In contrast, the CPC’s membership has increased.

According to Chen Xiangqin, a researcher with the SASS’ Institute for Chinese Marxist Studies, there are approximately 88 million CPC members in China — larger than the population of the UK, France or Germany.

The proportion of CPC members in the country’s population is enough proof that it is broadly representational, said Chen.

Ross Carroll

Chen Xiangqin

‘Mass line’

He ascribed it to the political tradition harkening back to the day the Party was born. The CPC’s activities have since revolved around the “mass line,” which calls for the Party to stay connected to the people.

A distinct feature of the CPC’s system is that the Party’s units are well represented in almost every echelon of the government, overseeing most aspects of the country’s political affairs, said Chen.

Dismissing foreign criticisms of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the political advisory body, that it is a “window-dressing,” he said the CPPCC is an arrangement whereby the CPC plays the central role and is assisted by democratic parties in governance.

Together, they represent the overall interests of society.

Alignment of these interests is beneficial for overcoming the kind of partisanship that often polarizes public opinion in the West, Chen said.

In her speech on China’s democratization path, Emilie Frenkiel traced the trajectory of China’s democratization in modern times and concluded that President Xi Jinping is to forge a uniquely Chinese national narrative.

Frenkiel, associate professor at the Paris 12 University, believed that the vision of leaders like Xi is for China to become “a strong nation capable of global leadership and of representing an alternative model of governance that sets China apart from market-led capitalism or liberal democracy.”

This, however, should not be interpreted as a “rejection of democracy,” she said; nor is it a new discourse, because the basic message is that “China must not be evaluated by Western standards but rather on its own.”

She echoed Chen’s view that the general focus on the greater good lies at the heart of China’s party politics.

It is precisely for this reason that China’s reforms and development are seldom bogged down in partisanship or grounded by resistance from vested interests.

This reform project is placed under the constant supervision of a party bent on properly utilizing social resources and optimizing the communal benefits.

Frenkiel did offer her suggestions, though. Reflecting perhaps on the campaign against corruption, which is in full swing, she said better selection and discipline of officials is needed.

To some speakers, the CPC’s status as the ruling party means it should hold its members to a stricter standard than the laws and regulations that ordinary citizens are subject to.

Emilie Frenkiel

Liu Honglin

High-level dialogue

Liu Honglin, a professor teaching at the Shanghai Administration Institute, is one of those who held this view. But he noted that laws and the Party’s disciplinary statutes do not contradict each other in China’s quest to establish the rule of law.

The Party should always operate within constitutional and legal boundaries. Compliance will afford it the best protection as well as immunity to abuse of power and personal greed, Liu said.

Interestingly, from November 30 to December 3, China convened a high-level dialogue between the CPC and world political parties in Beijing.

This event was attended by more than 600 representatives from around 120 countries and 300 parties.

President Xi Jinping, while addressing the opening of the dialogue, pledged that the CPC would neither import foreign models of development nor export the Chinese model. This should be the very assumption of foreign dealings with China, that a more confident China is willing to engage more with the world.

‘Sharp power’

To some observers, this new “assertiveness” is a “threat” that has to be taken seriously.

The Economist magazine recently ran a lengthy article in which it cited a multitude of “evidence” in blasting the expansion of what it calls China’s “sharp power” in the world. The coinage, inspired by hard power and soft power, is used to describe the pursuit of state objectives through manipulation and pressure.

The author wrote that China’s sharp power poses a conundrum to Western policymakers: “Rather than learning to live with each other, China and the West might drift into sullen miscomprehension.”

The article went on to say “the other concern is that policymakers play down the risks. If so, the public and politicians in the West may underestimate the threat from China’s rise.”

It’s not the first time a major Western publication has indulged in the usual fears of the “threat” China poses to Western value system.

However objective-sounding or neutral-looking, the new language in which such assessments are couched barely disguises the deep-seated distrust of China’s intentions.

This is why the high-level dialogue in Beijing and the symposium in Shanghai are important, because they are part of a greater attempt to bridge the divide and clarify misunderstanding.

Obviously some individuals still cannot reconcile themselves with the “annoying” notion of an increasingly confident China.

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