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Monday, Oct. 4, 2004

CCP eyes reforms while sustaining Hu

HONG KONG -- A key policy document endorsed by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party at the same time that it approved Hu Jintao as Jiang Zemin's successor as the country's top leader calls for urgent steps to enhance the party's ability to govern while outlining a cautious strategy of gradual and moderate reforms.

Conceding that the party's mode of governance was "not perfect," it criticizes some leading cadres for lacking "the ability to govern according to law and the competence to deal with complicated problems." It adds that some leaders don't have a strong sense of responsibility, personal integrity, a down-to-earth style of work or a close connection with the general public.

The document sounds a note of urgency, declaring that enhancement of the party's governance capability is related not only to "the success of China's socialist cause" but also to "the future and destiny of the Chinese nation, the life and death of the party, as well as the lasting stability and prosperity of the country."

Called a "Decision on the Enhancement of the Party's Governance Capability," the policy statement was approved by the party plenum held in Beijing from Sept. 16 to 19. It was made public last week.

According to the document, the party will guarantee that "the people carry out democratic election, policymaking, management and supervision according to law" while adhering to and improving the People's Congress system.

"We shall promote people's democracy by promoting inner-party democracy," it says. "And while leading the people in making laws, the party should also play an exemplary role in observing the laws and always safeguard the enforcement of the laws."

Recognizing the party's unchallenged position of leadership in the country, the document says the party would "strengthen restraint and supervision over the exercise of power." In a gesture toward accountability, it says the party should establish "a system to track down responsibilities for wrong decisions."

Reflecting the incremental nature of reforms under consideration, the party promises to improve the system of personnel selection by "appropriately expanding the scope and ratio of multicandidate recommendation and elections." In addition, it says, the party will improve the practice of public competition for official posts and decision-making through a vote by all party members "instead of arbitrary decision-making by the head of the committee."

Apparently recognizing the inherent ability of power to corrupt, it says: "The longer the party stays in power, the more arduous the anticorruption task will be, and it is more necessary for the party to unswervingly wage the war against corruption and enhance its ability to prevent corruption."

The document goes to some length to uphold Marxism as China's guiding ideology, although it confesses that it isn't sure exactly what socialism is. "Over the past half a century and more," it says, "the party has made painstaking efforts to seek answers to two major questions: What socialism is and how to build it, and what kind of party the Communist Party of China should be and how to build such a party."

It comes down in favor of a shifting definition of its ideology. "We must make sure the party's guiding ideology always progresses with the times," the document says, "and always uses constantly developing Marxism to guide our new practices."

The document reaffirms economic development as the top priority and, in international affairs, reiterates China's policy of an independent foreign policy of peace. However, the major thrust of the document is the party's need to improve governance. "We must develop a stronger sense of crisis, draw experience and lessons from the success and failure of other ruling parties in the world, and enhance our governance capacity in a more earnest and conscientious manner," it says.

The document's sense of urgency was no doubt fueled by fear that the party is losing touch with the people and might lose power one day. In fact, one well-placed source explained that the party was honing its ability to govern to prepare for the day when it might actually have to compete with other parties. It is more likely that the party wants to ensure that, by improving its governance, it will never have to face such an eventuality.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist.

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