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China's NPC And CPPCC Point To Communist Party Ascendancy – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

China's NPC and CPPCC Point to Communist Party Ascendancy

Srikanth Kondapalli

Several ‘firsts’ were clocked at the NPC and CPPCC sessions that have long-term implications for not only China domestically but also for what it might do externally.

China’s NPC and CPPCC

China concluded this week its annual “two sessions” at Beijing – that of its 3,000-plus-member nominal parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), and its 2,000-odd-member political advisory body, China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Several ‘firsts’ were clocked at these sessions that have long-term implications for not only China domestically but also for what it might do externally.

The first casualty was the three-decade-long reform-era practice of holding a press conference with the head of the State Council, the Premier, which was discontinued. The Premier’s address to the media every March tended to bring in a little transparency to an otherwise opaque political system. China has also not published defence white papers since 2019.

A second ‘first’ was the dropping of the words “peaceful resolution” of the Taiwan issue. In the aftermath of the visit to Taiwan of former US Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August 2022, China had taken on a massive, intimidating military posture on Taiwan. None of this, of course, deterred the Taiwanese from electing the incumbent Vice President Lai Ching-te, a red rag for the Beijing bull, as the next President of their little island of 23 million.

A third outcome is the increase in defence allocations by more than 7%, though economic growth rates are pegged at “around 5%”. Previously, China followed a philosophy of “coordinated” development, but in the last few years, military spending has been on a higher pedestal. This has triggered further security dilemmas in Asia and beyond.

A fourth, and perhaps the most ominous, signal out of the “two sessions” is that the Communist Party will henceforth be appropriating all those powers it may have lost to the Chinese State and its functionaries during the last four decades of reform. That is, even the thin differentiation between Party and State that has existed since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms has ended with Xi’s current policies.

Indeed, the NPC and CPPCC sessions indicated a trend of Communist Party dominance over the State apparatus under Xi. This is a throwback to the era of Mao Zedong’s leadership, erasing the checks and balances that Deng had introduced to control the excesses committed by party leaders.

Termed guojiahua, Deng’s leadership emphasized on building and nurturing State institutions as a bulwark against the whims and fancies of Communist Party leaders, such as the extreme left policies of the ‘Gang of Four’ leaders like Jiang Qing in the late 1970s. Deng promoted State institutions parallelly though these were under the overall jurisdiction of the Communist Party. Thus, the Party leadership was duplicated in State institutions.

Over a period of time, these institutions and individuals at the provincial, prefecture and county levels began to acquire an “autonomy” of their own as reflected in industries, businesses, education, culture and other fields that was also instrumental in bringing about double-digit economic growth rates.

President Xi began curtailing the State’s role since he ascended to the top of the Communist Party hierarchy in 2012. Strengthening Leninist party centralisation, Xi noted that the State has no agency other than that directed by the Party which is supreme in all walks of life. He dismissed the argument that China’s high economic growth rates were partly a reflection of State-led initiatives.

Xi axed a number of recalcitrant State officials through his massive anti-corruption drive that felled millions of central, provincial, prefecture and county-level officials. In fact, this is the largest section that was placed under “investigation” and disciplined in the last decade.

The anti-corruption drive, of course, was also targeted against rival political factions in the Communist Party, specifically Jiang Zemin’s “Shanghai gang” and Hu Jintao and the late Li Keqiang’s tuanpai (communist youth league) and benefitted Xi’s “New Zhijiang Army” – a band of followers who had served Xi in Zhejiang province earlier.

Another measure Xi undertook in this direction was to promote “common prosperity” by curtailing the influence of “private businesses”, ed-tech and even those in the culture, TV and film industries. Thus, big businesses like Jack Ma’s Alibaba, Tencent, Meituan came under the scanner and were ordered to channelise their profits into poverty alleviation funds, even as Party-directed State-Owned Enterprises were pushed to become global brands.

Finally, there is the increasing personality cult of Xi over the last decade, reflected at the “two sessions”. While in a previous NPC session in 2018, the presidential term limits were lifted, paving the way for Xi to remain President for as long as wants, the number of his Party positions are also increasing. The “work report” of the NPC mentions Xi 34 times, with Premier Li Qiang, a confidante of Xi, not even coming second in the political hierarchy. These are ominous signals for China and the world when the country’s economy is in trouble and regional and global insecurities are intensifying.

Srikanth Kondapalli is Professor in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is also an Honorary Fellow at Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi.

The article was first published in Deccan Herrald as Xi has reversed Deng-era rebalancing of Party-State equation. It’s ominous on March 17, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja, a visiting researcher at IMPRI.

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