A Profound Transformation: Continuing the Reform of Party and Government Institutions

By: Liu HeFrom:English Edition of QiuShi Journal July-September 2018|Vol.10,No.3,Issue No.36 | Updated: 2018-Sep-7 17:36
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General Secretary Xi Jinping made important arrangements for furthering institutional reform in the report to the 19th National Congress of the CPC in 2017. In this light, the 19th CPC Central Committee deliberated on this issue and adopted the “Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Deepening the Reform of Party and Government Institutions” (hereinafter referred to as the Decision) at its Third Plenary Session. The Decision explicitly stated that “Furthering the reform of Party and government institutions is a profound transformation aiming to promote the modernization of China’s governance systems and capacity.” Under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, we need to realize the necessity of promoting this profound transformation from a strategic and long-term perspective, and consciously implement it.

The CPC Central Committee issues the “Plan for Deepening the Reform of the Party and Government Institutions.” INFOGRAPHIC BY XINHUA REPORTER SHI MANKE

I. Fully realizing the historical and practical necessity of this profound transformation

The CPC Central Committee has always attached great significance to the development and reform of Party and government institutions. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core has upheld a problem-oriented approach and focused on key areas to continue the reform of Party and government institutions. By doing so, it has made major progress in key areas, and provided strong guarantees for historic achievements and changes in the undertakings of the Party and the country. The new era and our new tasks present us with new requirements; faced with these requirements and in line with the strategic arrangements made at the 19th National Congress of the CPC, it is historically and practically necessary that we continue the reform of Party and government institutions and continuously modernize China’s governance systems and capacity.

1. Furthering the reform of Party and government institutions is a necessary requirement for upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

As it forms the superstructure, the system which comprises the functions of Party and government institutions is an important component of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and should be improved constantly in line with the development of productive forces and changes in the economic base. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has, under the leadership of the CPC, established the basic socialist system, and gradually developed a unique system which comprises the functions of Party and government institutions. This system has played an important role in advancing China’s socialist development. Since reform and opening up began in 1978, in line with the requirements for developing a socialist market economy, the CPC has actively advanced the reform of Party and government institutions to continually optimize and gradually standardize their functions in all aspects, thus providing a strong boost for reform, opening up, and socialist modernization. As Chinese socialism has entered a new era, the functions of Party and government institutions must conform to the requirements for developing Chinese socialism in this new era. However, it should be noted that, at present, the setup and functions of Party and government institutions do not entirely meet the requirements for the coordinated advancement of the five-pronged overall plan and the “Four Comprehensives” strategy, or for the modernization of China’s governance systems and capacity. Therefore, we must boost the reform of Party and government institutions in accordance with the requirements for upholding and developing Chinese socialism.

2. Furthering the reform of Party and government institutions is a necessary requirement for strengthening the Party’s long-term governance capacity.

The leadership of the CPC is the defining feature of Chinese socialism. The system which comprises the functions of Party and government institutions is an important guarantee for our Party’s governance, and an important foundation that ensures our Party exercises overall leadership and coordinates overall initiatives. If our Party is to smoothly carry out all undertakings of Chinese socialism in the new era and better lead the Chinese people in carrying out our great struggle, developing our great project, advancing our great cause, and realizing our great dream, it is essential that we give play to the leadership of the CPC – our greatest institutional advantage – in our organizations and institutions. We must then apply this advantage in all areas and aspects so that Party and government fully and correctly perform their duties and their institutions provide guarantees for the long-term governance of the CPC and lasting stability of the country. At present, the Party’s institutional setup and functions in some areas have yet to be improved and strengthened, and the systems and mechanisms for guaranteeing overall Party leadership and promoting full and strict governance over the Party have yet to be enhanced. In order to strengthen the Party’s long-term governance capacity and ensure full and strict governance over the Party, there is a pressing need to further the reform of Party and government institutions, to improve institutional arrangements for ensuring overall Party leadership, to refine the way our Party leads and governs, and to enhance our Party’s capacity and resolve to chart the direction, exercise overall governance, formulate policies, and facilitate reform.

3. Furthering the reform of Party and government institutions is a necessary requirement for self-improvement and development of the socialist system.

Improving and developing the system of Chinese socialism and advancing the modernization of China’s governance systems and capacity are the overall objectives of comprehensively continuing reform. As an important aspect of this effort, furthering institutional reform serves as an institutional support and guarantee for reforms in various areas. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee led by Xi Jinping, institutional barriers have been removed in all areas and breakthroughs made in key areas, further improving China’s socialist system. However, it should be noted that, it is essential that we take our reform to the institutional level if we are to fundamentally resolve deep-rooted conflicts and problems in development and bolster and build on achievements in reform. At present, problems whereby some Party and government institutions have overlapping responsibilities or their powers and responsibilities are not well matched are relatively prominent. Another prominent issue is that the institutional setup and division of responsibilities in some government institutions are illogical, leading to dereliction of responsibilities and low efficiency, and the transformation of government functions is not yet where it should be. Also at issue is that the functions of some local institutions are exactly the same as their counterparts at the central level, and the division of power and responsibility is irrational. In order to resolve these problems, we must boost the reform of Party and government institutions to provide institutional support and guarantees for continuing reform and overcoming difficulties in the economic, social, political, cultural, and ecological realms.

4. Furthering the reform of Party and government institutions is a necessary requirement for achieving the “Two Centenary Goals,” developing a modern socialist country, and realizing national rejuvenation.

In order to achieve the “Two Centenary Goals,” the 19th National Congress of the CPC made strategic arrangements for developing Chinese socialism in the new era – building China into a moderately prosperous society by 2020, basically realizing socialist modernization by 2035, and developing China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful by the middle of the 21st century. To achieve the first centenary goal, the functions of Party and government institutions must provide guarantees that ensure tough steps are taken to forestall and defuse major risks, carry out targeted poverty alleviation, and prevent and control pollution with a view to resolving prominent problems. Meanwhile, to achieve the second centenary goal, we must focus on resolving institutional issues that have a long-term bearing. However, it should be noted that the setup and functions of our Party and government institutions have yet to meet the requirements for achieving the “Two Centenary Goals.” In particular, we have yet to improve the setup and use of power in community-level institutions, and their capacity to organize and serve the general public needs to be raised. Also, people’s organizations need to strengthen their political consciousness, become more advanced, and better represent the people. Thus, we urgently need to boost the reform of Party and government institutions, rationally define the functions of these institutions, and improve relevant systems and mechanisms. Doing so will provide strong institutional guarantees for securing moderate prosperity throughout society, embarking on a new journey to build a thoroughly modern socialist country, and realizing the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.

II. Accurately grasping the distinctive features of this profound transformation

In the report to the 19th National Congress of the CPC, General Secretary Xi Jinping made clear the requirements that we get rid of all outdated thinking and ideas and all institutional barriers, break through the blockades of vested interests, and draw on the achievements of other civilizations so as to develop a set of institutions that are well conceived, fully built, procedure based, and efficiently functioning, and do full justice to the strengths of China’s socialist system. Fully embodying the major requirements that General Secretary Xi has set forth, the measures to further the reform of Party and government institutions have the following distinctive features.

1. The core issue of this reform is to strengthen overall Party leadership.

The Party exercises overall leadership over all areas of endeavor in the country. The Decision clarifies that strengthening Party leadership in all areas and aspects of work is the primary task for continuing the reform of Party and government institutions. In order to improve and uphold the system of overall Party leadership, the Decision sets forth the following requirements. First, it requires that we establish and improve the systems and mechanisms for Party leadership over major initiatives. To do so, we should start by strengthening centralized and unified leadership of the Party over major initiatives that have an overall bearing on the undertakings of the Party and the country. The Decision also stipulates that we optimize the CPC Central Committee’s bodies for decision-making, deliberation, and coordination. Further, it requires that we strengthen and optimize the Party’s leadership over tasks regarding the reform, the rule of law, the economy, agriculture and rural areas, disciplinary inspection, organization, communication and culture, national security, the judiciary, the united front, ethnic groups and religion, education, science and technology, the Internet and IT, diplomacy, and auditing. Bodies for deliberation and coordination in other areas should be established or adjusted in conformity with the CPC Central Committee’s structure for decision-making, deliberation, and coordination. Second, it stipulates that we strengthen the leadership role of Party organizations over other organizations at the same level, and better exert the role of the Party in exercising overall leadership and coordinating overall initiatives. Third, it requires that we give better play to the role of the Party’s functional departments in coordinating the work of other institutions in the same sector or area. Fourth, it requires that we coordinate the establishment of Party and government institutions. Party institutions can be established in coordination with other closely related institutions that have similar functions, so that they merge with one another or work together as one office while keeping separate identities. Fifth, it stipulates that we advance reform of the Party’s disciplinary inspection system and the national supervision system, and establish supervisory commissions at the national, provincial, municipal, and county levels, so as to ensure that supervision covers everyone working in the public sector who exercises public power.

2. A prominent feature of this reform is its full coverage.

Different from previous institutional reforms that mainly dealt with government institutions and administrative systems, the current institutional reform is comprehensive, covering Party institutions, government institutions, the people’s congresses, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), judicial institutions, people’s organizations, social organizations, government-affiliated institutions, military and civilian institutions, and institutions at all levels from central to local. In addition to improving and upholding the system for overall Party leadership, the Decision calls us to focus our efforts on the following three aspects. First, it requires that we optimize the setup and functions of government institutions. To do so, we need to rationally define the functions of departments for macroeconomic management, further streamline government administration and delegate power, improve market oversight and relevant law enforcement systems, reform the systems for managing natural resources and the environment, improve the systems for managing public services, and enhance ongoing and ex-post supervision. Second, it stipulates that we coordinate the reforms of Party, government, military, and public institutions. To do so, we need to improve the setup of Party and government institutions, further reform of the people’s congresses, the CPPCC, judicial institutions, and people’s organizations, advance the reform of social organizations, step up the reform of government-affiliated institutions, and further the reform of military and civilian institutions. Third, it requires the rational setup of local institutions. To do so, we need to ensure centralized and unified leadership, endow institutions at the provincial level and below with greater autonomy, establish community-level management systems that are simple and highly efficient, and standardize the vertical management system and tiered management system at the local level.

3. The reform is revolutionary.

As it does not avoid making adjustments regarding power and interests, and instead rebalances existing vested interests to create a new framework of interests, this reform is revolutionary in nature. The Decision points out that we need to resolutely remove institutional barriers that restrain the market from playing the decisive role in resource allocation and the government from better exercising its designated functions. Furthermore, with a view to promoting high-quality development to establish a modern economic system, it pointed out the need to strengthen and improve the role of the government in economic regulation, market oversight, social management, public services, and environmental protection, and adjust and optimize government functions. The following are specific requirements laid out in the Decision document. It explicitly requires reducing micromanagement and the number of items subject to government approval, as well as minimizing the government’s direct allocation of market resources and direct intervention in economic activities. The Decision also requires that we relax restrictions on entry into service industries, and fully implement a market access system based on negative lists. It requires that we establish regulatory agencies to manage state-owned natural resource assets and monitor natural ecosystems, and improve environmental management systems. These agencies will, in a unified way, perform the duties of the owner of public-owned natural resource assets, the duties of regulating the use of all territorial space and protecting and restoring ecosystems, and the duties of monitoring the discharge of all pollutants in urban and rural areas and conducting administrative law enforcement. The Decision requires that we step up the separation of government functions from social organizations, and address the tendency of social organizations becoming quasi-government institutions. It requires that we relieve public institutions of government functions, and no longer establish public institutions that perform administrative functions. As for public institutions that provide services to society, we will let them run their own day-to-day operations while maintaining supervision over them, and see that they focus on serving public interests instead of merely seeking profits.

4. The reform boasts rational design.

The rationality of a reform plan determines whether or not it conforms to actual needs and objective laws, and is thus crucial to determining the success of reform. In response to issues such as irrational institutional configurations and ineffective mechanisms for restricting and monitoring the exercise of power in some areas, the Decision maintains the principles of optimization, coordination, and high efficiency, and emphasizes the necessity of optimizing the setup and functions of Party and government institutions. On this matter, it first stipulates that we ensure that, in principle, one matter or one type of matter is dealt with by one department, and that we enhance collaboration between relevant institutions in an effort to prevent one policy from being formulated by multiple institutions, ensure responsibilities of these institutions are clearly defined, and prevent institutions from shirking their duties. Second, it requires that we streamline the establishment of government departments at all levels and their internal institutions, rationally allocate powers, and cut the number of institutions by reducing intermediary levels and promoting horizontal modes of management, thereby creating a top-down, highly efficient organizational system. Third, it requires that we correctly understand and implement the division between Party and government duties, straighten out the relationship between the duties of Party and government institutions, and ensure that the Party exercises centralized and unified leadership with other institutions running efficiently in coordination. It also stipulates that we reduce overlapping in administration and fragmented and overlapping duties. Fourth, it requires that we establish an administration for veterans, and mobilize various sectors to better serve veterans. Fifth, for institutions at provincial, municipal, and county levels, it requires that their functions basically correspond with one another in the following regards: the centralized and unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee, and the unity of the legal system, government directives, and the market. At the same time, it allows for the delegation to local governments of economic and social management of direct concern to local communities in an extensive range of areas which local authorities are better positioned to administer. Local governments are allowed to set up institutions and define their functions in light of local conditions – a given institution may take on tasks assigned by multiple institutions at the upper level, and multiple institutions may report to one institution at the upper level.

5. The outcomes of this reform will be codified into law.

Consolidating and institutionalizing reform achievements via codification has been a successful practice in recent years of reform. The Decision points out that the codification of institutional configurations into law is an important guarantee for bolstering the reform of Party and government institutions. Given that our institutional configurations have yet to be standardized and codified into law and that their management has yet to be improved, the Decision explicitly requires that we promote the codification of institutional configurations into law. It stipulates that we manage all types of organizations and institutions in accordance with the law, and work to codify their structure, functions, powers, procedures, and responsibilities into law. On this matter, it first requires that we improve rules and regulations regarding Party and government institutions. This necessitates further developing Party regulations, working on the formulation of a law governing institutional configurations, and enhancing the authority of regulations that designate duties, institutions, and personnel. It also requires that we promote the system for listing the powers and obligations of government departments across the board, and link the list of powers and obligations with the regulations that designate duties, institutions, and personnel in an effort to standardize and restrict the performance of duties. Second, it requires that we intensify constraints on the management of institutional configurations. It raises the need to strengthen the Party’s centralized and unified leadership over tasks concerning institutional configurations, coordinate the use of various resources in this regard, and enhance the coordination and allocation of resources for institutional configurations between different departments and regions. It requires that we strictly implement regulations regarding the specified quotas on institutions, the number of posts for leading official, and the type and total number of staff. It also stipulates that we strictly control the number of auxiliary staff. Third, it requires stronger punishment for unlawful activities and disciplinary violations in institutional configurations, and that we hold those responsible strictly to account.

III. Feasibly guaranteeing the effective advancement of institutional reform

Continuing the reform of Party and government institutions is a systematic project that involves arduous and complex tasks and faces great difficulties in its implementation. With a commitment to the general principle of pursuing progress while ensuring stability, we must stick to the right direction in reform, and align our thoughts and actions with Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and with the CPC Central Committee’s decisions and arrangements to further the reform of Party and government institutions. We must be more conscious of the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment. We also need to strengthen our confidence in the path, theory, system, and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and firmly safeguard the authority and centralized, unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core. We need to balance the relationship between reform, development, and stability, solidify confidence and seize opportunities, focus on resolving outstanding problems at the current stage, make in-depth and meticulous efforts, and fully satisfy the requirements for continuing institutional reform.

1. We need to strengthen CPC leadership.

Currently, carrying forward the reform of Party and government institutions is a major event in the political affairs of the Party and the country. We must give full play to the CPC’s central role as the leader of reform, development, and stability, and use the CPC’s political advantages to lead and promote this major reform. The CPC Central Committee will exercise unified leadership over the initiatives to further the reform of Party and government institutions, and act as a coordinator, overall promoter, and supervisor in the implementation of this reform. We need to make our reform initiatives more systematic, holistic, and coordinated, and enhance the coordination between the reforms of Party, government, military, and public institutions, so that all these reforms are mutually reinforcing and mutually complementary and produce overall effects. All provincial authorities and central departments should firmly implement the reform tasks set out by the CPC Central Committee, and all Party committees and governments should fulfill their principal obligations with the courage to take responsibilities and to tackle tough issues.

2. We need to implement reform plans in a law-based and orderly manner.

All requirements for the institutional reform will eventually be manifested in reform plans. All provincial authorities and central departments should earnestly implement the reform plans identified by the CPC Central Committee at a swift and steady pace. When implementing the reform plans, if certain laws or regulations need to be formulated or revised, relevant procedures must be launched promptly. When formulating implementation plans to define duties, institutions, and personnel, all departments, especially those affected by the adjustment of institutional functions, must see the bigger picture, consciously comply with the decisions of the CPC Central Committee, ensure that their institutional functions are adjusted accordingly in a timely and sufficient manner, and promptly complete employee transfers – bending the rules or postponing the reform is not allowed. Institutional reform at central and provincial levels will be launched under unified arrangement of the CPC Central Committee, while reform below the provincial level will be launched in stages after reform at the provincial level is nearing completion.

3. We need to give full play to the initiative of both the central and local governments.

China is a vast and populous country with significant disparities between various administrative levels and geographical regions. On the one hand, we need to strengthen the centralized and unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee, enhance top-level design and overall planning, endeavor to make breakthroughs where necessary conditions are ripe, and carry out trials where such conditions are not yet fully in place. We also need to coordinate institutional reform with reforms in other fields, so as to ensure overall planning and nationwide concerted efforts. On the other hand, we need to take into account the actual conditions of different regions, unleash and give play to the enthusiasm and creativity of local governments, and encourage local governments and communities to make active explorations in light of local conditions. As for practices that are universally applicable, we will draw on these experiences and implement them on a nationwide basis as soon as practicable.

4. We need to ensure concrete and meticulous efforts in implementing reform plans.

Since furthering institutional reform entails the rebalancing of departmental and personal interests, the implementation of relevant reform plans is a truly challenging job. Some of the institutional adjustments should be fully implemented several months after the reform plan is promulgated, while others may require a longer period of time, and both situations entail meticulous and concrete efforts. Party committees and governments at all levels need to play a leading role in the reform of Party and government institutions, study and resolve new situations and new problems that emerge during the process, enhance political work, and patiently provide explanations for the departments and individuals influenced by this reform. Doing so will ensure that these departments and individuals understand the rationale behind the reforms, that the original staff members do not disperse themselves, and that their operations continue as normal. Relevant departments should exert positive influence on public opinion through effective communication, policy explanation, and clearing up of doubts, with a view to creating a favorable social environment and ensuring all reform initiatives are carried out in a steady, orderly, and effective manner.

(Originally appeared in People’s Daily, March 13, 2018)

Liu He is Member of the Political Bureau of the 19th CPC Central Committee, Vice Premier, a member of the Party leadership group of the State Council, and Director of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs.