How the CPC leads China’s development

BY Robert Lawrence Kuhn | 10-21-2021
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Robert Lawrence Kuhn delievers a video speech at the Opening Ceremony of The International Academic Forum in China 2021 in Beijing on Oct. 14. Photo: Zhu Gaolei/CSST

Congratulations to this International Academic Forum in China by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on the theme of “A New and Uniquely Chinese Path to Modernization.” It is a pleasure to participate.

I’d like to share with you my experiences in telling China’s story to the world and my views on the Communist Party of China (CPC).
I have been coming to China for more than 30 years. I have traveled across China, visiting over 100 cities, with my long-term partner, Adam Zhu, for research and interviews, books and essays, television and documentaries. 
Twelve principles
I have given thought, over the years, as to what has brought about China’s developmental miracle. Consider 12 principles.
1. A people who work long and hard to improve the lives of their families and the destiny of their country. 
2. The prioritizing of economic and social development over ideological rigidity. 
3. A one-party-leadership system (what is called “the multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC”) that enforces political stability, and encourages economic development and social enhancement.
4. A one-party-leadership system that is structured in hierarchical administrative levels—central government and provincial, municipal, county, township, and village.
5. A one-party-leadership system that prioritizes selection, training, monitoring, and inspection of key personnel, inculcating a high degree of administrative and managerial professionalism.
6. A one-party-leadership system that solicits, and pays attention to expert opinion, whether in the Party or not, as exemplified by the increasing social power of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
7. A one-party-leadership system that solicits, and pays attention to, public opinion.
8. The setting of long-term goals, mid-term objectives, and short-term policies that are monitored and modified continuously; policies that need long-term commitment have long-term commitment. 
9. A way of thinking that experiments and tests new policies before implementation and rolling them out. 
10. A one-party-leadership system that leverages industrial planning and state capital to gain economies of scale and competitive advantage. 
11. A one-party-leadership system that provides checks and balances via anti-corruption institutions.
12. A one-party-leadership system that is willing to admit and correct errors. 
For the world to understand China, the world must understand the Party’s way of thinking—in other words, first, why the CPC asserts that the Party’s continuing political leadership is optimum for China’s development, and, second, why the CPC asserts that the Party’s robustness depends on its adaptability, self-regulation, and strict management. 
President Xi Jinping stresses the theme of “not forgetting the Party’s original intention and keeping in mind the mission,” which, Xi says, is the self-revolution of the Party under the new historical conditions. President Xi states that the CPC should be governed by standardized rules and procedures that are open to public oversight. Only by adapting continuously, focusing on real-world issues, can the Party construct a truly prosperous society that is sustainable.
The Party-led system involves effective feedback mechanisms, such as polling to discern what people think, for example about proposed new policies. So, even though there are no elections in the Western sense, there is a good deal of feedback from different constituencies. Another example is when officials are nominated to new positions, there is often a period of time for feedback from colleagues, subordinates, and superiors. 
Moreover, the work reports of Party leadership at Party congresses every five years, and the work reports of the government at the National People’s Congress each year, reflect a great deal of input and suggestions from all relevant officials, experts, and constituencies. These work reports are not just what top leadership puts together for form and ceremony. No—they are drafted by many teams, and feedback and opinions are solicited from numerous officials and experts; the documents circulate iteratively many times during the six to eight months or more of the drafting period.
Misunderstandings of CPC
So, my friends in China ask, why does the world misunderstand the CPC? The problem, I argue, is partly semantics—because the English word “party” connotes, in democratic political systems, a political party that competes in free and open multi-party elections, such that a political party that does not compete in free and open multi-party elections “must be” exercising authoritarian control by force.
This characterization misunderstands the Chinese system, which is founded on a different principle, where the CPC is the ruling organization, not a competing political party—it is a dedicated elite from all sectors of society, consisting of less than 7% of the population but tasked to represent 100% of the population.
For this reason, the CPC, as the perpetual ruling party, has a higher obligation to enhance standards of living and personal well-being, which includes reform, rule of law, transparency in government, public participation in governance, increasing democracy, various freedoms, and human rights. These are real challenges.
For those foreigners who marvel at how China contained the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, with so few cases and deaths compared to other countries, I point out that the common root of China winning the war to contain the contagious coronavirus, and China winning the war to eradicate extreme poverty, is the CPC’s leadership and organizational capacity. This remarkable parallelism is a probative insight into China’s Party-led governance system.
All political parties, all political systems, have trade-offs, and while achieving national objectives is indeed an advantage of China’s Party-led system, it is not the only criterion for evaluating systems. This is why continuing reform, opening up, and system improvement are needed.
President Xi’s July 1 speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China marked the historic juncture between China’s two centenary goals: the official realization of China’s first centenary goal of building a “moderately prosperous society,” which includes, notably, the eradication of all extreme poverty—and the commencement of China’s second centenary goal of building a great modern socialist country at the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2049, when the country intends to be prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful. While the foundation of Xi’s speech is a homage to the CPC’s past achievements, its edifice is the CPC’s promise for China’s future. 
National rejuvenation
National rejuvenation, led by the Party, is Xi’s overarching vision and it is expressed domestically and internationally. I focus here on China’s domestic rejuvenation, characterized by three themes.
The first is the essential vitality of the Party. “China’s success hinges on the Party,” Xi said. He upheld the firm leadership of the Party and the ever-present necessity to build the Party, stressing, “despite having undergone so many trials and tribulations,” the Party “practices effective self-supervision and full and rigorous self-governance.”
The second theme is the CPC’s people-centered philosophy: working toward a better life for all Chinese citizens, resolving the imbalances and inadequacies in development and the most pressing difficulties and problems, and seeking substantive progress toward achieving well-rounded human development and common prosperity for all.
The third theme is China’s great struggle and need for self-reliance. In his speech, Xi used the word “struggle” 13 times. Xi is preparing the people for uncertain times. 
One challenge, given Party-led unity, is how to encourage creativity and innovation, which require fresh, novel, non-conformist ways of thinking—which can occasionally be disruptive—which President Xi stated are essential for China to become a power in science and technology and to build its economy and society in the new era to realize the Chinese dream.
What, then, might future historians say about President Xi’s speech? Here are three long-tail trends that they might follow:
How sustainable were advances in standards of living of China’s relatively poor and thus achieving common prosperity? Was there backsliding? How effective was the rural vitalization strategy in transforming the countryside and in reducing the gaps between urban and rural areas?
How effective was China in becoming self-sufficient in science and technology, especially in high tech, and most especially in artificial intelligence and in the manufacturing of state-of-the-art semiconductors?
How deftly did China handle issues of information and big data, from access and control to economic leverage and personal privacy?
Speaking personally, when I heard President Xi in his July 1, 2021, speech, combining both appreciation of the past and expectations for the future, it resonated with what Xi told me personally in 2006, when he was Party Secretary of Zhejiang Province. “It’s fair to say that we have achieved successes,” Xi said at the time; “nevertheless we should have a cautious appraisal of our accomplishments.” He called for China to aspire to “our next higher goal,” and to recognize “the gap between where we are and where we have to go.” He described this process as “persistent and unremitting.” This, then, is the roadmap to 2049 and to what Xi says is the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn is chairman of the Kuhn Foundation and he received the China Reform Friendship Medal in 2018. This is an excerpt from his video speech at the forum’s Opening Ceremony.
Edited by YANG XUE