A New Chapter in the Reform and Opening Up Drive

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2014-05-09 16:47
text size: T | T

The Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth CPC Central Committee saw the passage of the Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reform (hereafter the Decision). Building on China’s successful practices in reform, and bringing together the wisdom of the entire CPC and all members of society, the Decision constitutes a framework document that will guide China in its efforts to comprehensively deepen reform under new circumstances. As a top-level design scheme for the comprehensive deepening of reform in China, the Decision is characterized by the emphasis that it places on problem oriented and economically driven reform, on deepening reform in a comprehensive manner, and on setting clear objectives for reform. 

I. Problem oriented reform

In an explanatory speech given about the Decision, General Secretary Xi Jinping stated: “The efforts that we Chinese Communists have made in revolution, development, and reform have always been aimed at resolving the practical problems that China faces. Reforms are driven by the existence of problems, and are deepened through our continued efforts to resolve them.”

These remarks reveal the secret behind the success of China’s reforms.

China’s reforms have never been the product of “new thinking,” nor have they been carried out according to an ideal blueprint, prior experience, or a foreign model. On the contrary, they have always been essential steps necessitated by the existence of real problems. Thirty-five years ago, it was in order to resolve the serious situation confronting China that the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee made the historic decision to shift the focus of the Party and country to economic development and initiate a policy of reform and opening up. This decision marked the beginning of China’s historic reform and opening up drive. In the time that has passed since then, prompt efforts to analyze new situations, summarize new experiences, and resolve new problems have been made at all national congresses of the Party and at all plenary sessions of the successive CPC central committees. By tapping into the wisdom of the entire Party and society as a whole, the Party has gradually identified its basic theories, line, program, experiences, and requirements. Working on that basis, it has formulated and adopted a series of principles, policies, and work arrangements to guide China’s reform, opening up, and socialist modernization drive. These efforts have allowed China to successfully create and constantly develop socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Following 35 years of continuous reforms, most of the easy problems have already been resolved. Now we are left with mostly difficult problems. Some of these problems are sensitive and major issues that could have a bearing on the overall situation; others are problems that have become pronounced during our pursuit of development or after achieving development. This fits in with remarks made by General Secretary Xi Jinping: “During the course of our efforts to understand and transform the world, the resolution of one problem is invariably followed by the emergence of a new one in its place, and this means that constant efforts are needed to improve institutions. Reform can neither be completed overnight, nor can it be accomplished in a single effort.”


In order to resolve a series of outstanding problems confronting China’s development under new circumstances, it is essential that we engage in further efforts to establish a developmental environment that facilitates fair competition, to boost economic and social vitality, to improve government efficiency and efficacy, to ensure social fairness and justice, to promote social harmony and stability, and to enhance the Party’s capacity to lead and govern. In fact, the very purpose of the recently held Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth CPC Central Committee was to address these major issues in question. Placing its focus on the resolution of key issues, the Third Plenary Session drew on a keen awareness of the problems at hand to set out a roadmap and a plan of action for comprehensively deepening reform in China. 

The problems we face are a sign of the times we live in. In fact, it has always been by responding to and resolving the major problems of the times that Marxist theories and socialism have been able to develop. By orienting our reforms towards the resolution of problems, what we are in effect doing is “feeling out the stones to cross the river.” This approach embodies a theoretical line of proceeding from reality and seeking truth from facts. In keeping with Marxist epistemology and thinking on practice, it represents the most scientific and the most feasible approach to reform, complying more closely with the objective laws of development than any other approach. It demands that we proceed on the basis of practical problems as opposed to subjective intentions, theoretical dogma, and foreign models as we are engaging in theoretical innovations, policy adjustments, and reform arrangements. This approach was not only a fundamental factor in the huge success of our reforms in the past, but also constitutes a basic principle that we must adhere to in our efforts to comprehensively deepen reform in the future.

II. Economically driven reform

The Decision includes the following statement: “As we work to comprehensively deepen reform, we must bear in mind the paramount reality that China will remain in the primary stage of socialism for a considerable period of time to come, and adhere to the major strategic judgment that development still holds the key to addressing all of China’s problems. We need to take economic development as the central task, give full play to the role of economic reform as a driving force, and promote better integration between relations of production and productive forces and between the superstructure and the economic base, so as to promote the sustained and sound development of our economy and society.”

Economic reform has always been the focus and driving force of China’s reforms. From rural areas to urban areas, and again from coastal areas to inland areas, economic reforms have always served as the breakthrough point and the main focus of China’s reform initiatives. With major progress having being made in both theory and practice, economic reform has enabled China to constantly unleash and develop productive forces, propelling the country towards developmental achievements that have captivated the world.

Karl Marx said that “the mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.” China’s reform experiences have demonstrated how economic reforms are able to play a major role in influencing and guiding reforms in other sectors. The progression of major economic reform determines the progression of structural reforms in many other sectors, with a single step having the potential to affect the overall situation. We have given play to the guiding role of economic reform, using it as a driving force to create favorable conditions and strong impetus for the deepening of reform on a comprehensive basis. This approach conforms to the laws of economic and social development, which hold that productive forces determine the relations of production while the economic base determines the superstructure.

At present, China’s basic national condition remains unchanged: the country is still in the primary stage of socialism, and will continue to be so for a considerable period of time to come. At the same time, the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people are still unable to be met by China’s backward social production—which continues to constitute China’s principal problem at present—and China’s international status as the largest developing country in the world is yet to change. These facts dictate that development still holds the key to addressing all of China’s problems, that economic development is still China’s central task, and that economic reform is still the top priority in the comprehensive deepening of reform. With many institutional and structural constraints to scientific development still present in the economic system, our tasks in economic reform are far from being fulfilled, and the potential of economic reform has yet to be fully unleashed. As we work to comprehensively deepen reform, we must continue to make economic reform the focus of our efforts, and strive to make new breakthroughs in important areas and key aspects of reform. By doing so, we will be able to guide and promote reforms in other sectors, thereby bringing about a state of cohesion in which reforms in various areas can progress in coordination with one another. 

But what do we mean when we talk about the economy? Put simply, we are talking about the national economy and the public wellbeing. Any reform that fails to effectively resolve problems with regard to the national economy and the public wellbeing is doomed to failure. The huge success of China’s reforms is attributable to the fact that the purpose and ultimate goal of our reforms has always been to improve the national economy and make the lives of the people better. Therefore, identifying economic reform as the focus and driving force of reform can also be viewed as one of the secrets behind the success of China’s reforms.  

III. Deepening reform in a comprehensive manner

China’s reforms have always been comprehensive in scope, and in no way has reform in any one given area “lagged” behind reform in other areas. Our decisions on what should be reformed and in what order are based on actual circumstances and the practical needs of reform and development. The purpose of all reforms is to promote the self-improvement and development of China’s socialist system, and to inject new vitality into socialism. It would be contrary to both fact and logic to attribute China’s achievements over the past 35 years solely to economic reform, which would be to neglect the role of political reform and reforms in other sectors.

At present, China’s reforms have entered deeper waters and more difficult territory. In this phase, reforms in various different sectors and areas are becoming more closely linked, exerting a stronger effect on one another. Under such circumstances, individual reform initiatives will not only exert a significant impact on reforms in other sectors, but will also require the coordination and support of other reforms. If reforms in a certain area race ahead without being coordinated with reforms in other areas, or if reform measures in different sectors hinder or even contradict one another, it will be difficult for these reforms to proceed smoothly. Even if progress can be made, the effectiveness of these reforms is bound to suffer.

In line with the five-pronged approach to building socialism with Chinese characteristics, which was set out in the report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC, the Decision has proposed systematic designs and overall plans for economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological reforms, as well as Party building reforms, with greater emphasis being placed on making our reforms more systematic, integrated, and coordinated. This signals the beginning of a new phase of efforts to comprehensively deepen China’s reforms.

As the old Chinese saying goes, he who fails to think widely will be ill-equipped to act locally. We need to coordinate overall reform with individual reforms in each sector, tackle problems on the surface while working to address the root causes, and promote mutually reinforcing efforts to achieve progress gradually and make breakthroughs. By doing so, we will be able to strike a sound balance between achieving overall progress and making breakthroughs in key areas, thereby giving full play to the role of reforms in all sectors. Taking into consideration all aspects, layers, and elements of our efforts to deepen reform, we must work to facilitate the mutual reinforcement, sound interaction, and coordination of various reform initiatives, ensure that reforms at different times and in different sectors are coordinated and linked with one another, and pay close attention to the overall effects of reform measures, so as to ensure that we do not overemphasize some sectors while neglecting others. It should also be noted that pursuing overall progress does not mean that we must devote equal efforts to all sectors. Rather, it means that we should lay emphasis on principal problems and the principal aspects of problems, and on important areas and key aspects. For major reforms, we should make overall plans and proceed in a coordinated fashion, as a single step in this regard could have a bearing on the overall situation. We must appropriately identify and address the major relationships involved in our efforts to comprehensively deepen reform, and accurately define the strategic emphasis, priorities, and main direction of our reform initiatives. By doing so, we will be able to ensure that all reform measures are coordinated with one another from a policy perspective, that they are mutually reinforcing during the implementation process, and that their effects complement one another. At the same time, we will also be able to unleash the vitality of all labor, knowledge, technology, managerial expertise, and capital, and give full play to all sources of social wealth, so that all people can gain more and benefit more equally from the fruits of development.

Having a major bearing on the overall initiatives of the Party and the government, our efforts to comprehensively deepen reform involve all areas of economic and social development, as well as a great number of major theoretical and practical issues. This is therefore a systematic undertaking of great complexity. We must continue to strike a balance between the intensity of reform, the pace of development, and the capacity of the general public to cope. On this basis, we will be able to promote reform and development while maintaining social stability, and facilitate social stability through reform and development.

IV. Setting clear objectives for reform

The Decision states the following: “The overall objective of comprehensively deepening reform is to improve and develop the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, and to promote the modernization of our national governance system and governance capacity.” 

The idea of modernizing our national governance system and governance capacity is a major theoretical contribution that this plenary session has made.

In 1992, Deng Xiaoping predicted that it would take China another 30 years to form a full set of well-developed and relatively fixed systems. When outlining the goals of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and deepening reform and opening up in an all-round way, the report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC stated that: “We need to set up a complete, scientific, well-regulated, and effective framework of systems, and ensure that systems in all areas are well-developed and relatively fixed.” The recent plenary session was held with the theme of comprehensively deepening reform, indicating that China’s reforms will not be confined to one sector or several sectors, but will take place across all sectors. Therefore, we can see that the issue of China’s national governance system and governance capacity is being approached from an overall perspective.

But what exactly is our national governance system? And how should we interpret governance capacity? China’s national governance system can be understood as a full set of closely linked and coordinated national systems through which the country is governed under the leadership of the Party. It consists of institutions, mechanisms, laws, and regulations with regard to economy, politics, culture, society, ecological progress, and Party building. China’s national governance capacity refers to the capacity to administer various social affairs through the application of national systems. This includes promoting reform, development, and stability, handling domestic affairs, foreign affairs, and national defense, and governing the Party, the state, and the armed forces. A country’s national governance system and governance capacity complement each other to form an organic whole. We say this because a sound governance system is essential for the improvement of governance capacity, while the improvement of governance capacity is a necessary precondition for fully exerting the effectiveness of a governance system.

How should we perceive our national governance system and governance capacity? On the one hand, since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Party has constantly explored ways in which to govern a socialist society, which represents a totally new form of society. Although there have been missteps along the way, the Party has gained a great deal of experience, and has gone on to make great achievements with regard to national governance. Moreover, progress in this regard has been especially remarkable since the launch of the reform and opening up drive. China’s political stability, rapid economic growth, social harmony, and ethnic solidarity come in stark contrast to the continuous turmoil that has been seen in certain countries and regions of the world. This demonstrates that our national governance system and governance capacity are generally sound, and that they are essentially geared to the needs of national development. On the other hand, compared with developed countries that have already achieved modernization, China still has a way to go in improving its national governance system and governance capacity. Major problems in this regard include a framework of national institutions that is in need of improvement, and a legal system that is not yet fully adequate, with failure to observe or strictly enforce the law being a particularly prominent problem. China’s capacity to handle national affairs under prescribed institutions, standards and procedures is also in need of improvement. In summary, we may say that our advantages are found in the strong leadership of the CPC, in a system that allows us to pool national strength behind major undertakings, in the strong capacity of the Party and government to mobilize and organize the general public, and in a mechanism for mutual aid and coordination on a nationwide basis; while our shortcoming lies in the fact that our national governance has yet to be modernized.

The modernization of our national governance system and governance capacity represents an indispensable part of our efforts to improve and develop the socialist system with Chinese characteristics and to achieve socialist modernization. The achievement of social harmony and enduring national peace and stability ultimately depends on institutions, on our capacity to enforce institutions, and on the modernization of national governance. We need to adapt as the times change, govern the country through the appropriate use of institutions and the law, and translate our various institutional advantages into greater capacity to run the country, with a view to improving the capacity of the Party to conduct scientific, democratic, and law-based governance.

We have defined improving and developing the socialist system with Chinese characteristics and promoting the modernization of our national governance system and governance capacity as the overall objective of our efforts to deepen reform in a comprehensive manner. This means that we will create a new China that boasts modern national governance under the socialist system with Chinese characteristics. This is an inspiring goal that demonstrates great foresight and far-reaching ambition.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.23, 2013)

Qiushi Journal | English Edition of Qiushi Jounrnal | Contact us | Subscription Copyright by Qiushi Journal, All rights reserved