From 40 Years to China’s New Era VI: Required Governance Reform
By Robert Lawrence Kuhn
I'm Robert Lawrence Kuhn and here's what I'm watching:
In this 40th year of China's reform and opening up, governance reform — economic reform could not have worked without governance reform. What lessons were learned? What challenges lie ahead?
The road to reform was long and winding. Resisting reforms is a universal principle, and, in China's case, there was also ideological inertia — which is why governance reform was essential.
Governance reform in China is not as many foreigners imagine it should be. It is not Western-style, multi-party democracy. Rather, governance reform here is expansive — encompassing institutional efficiency, rule of law, greater checks and balances within the inner-party system, public transparency such as in the promotion of officials, and the solicitation of citizen input, especially online.
The goal of governance reform is to support economic reform and social development. Take three topics, each, as they say, sensitive — Market vs. government: what is the optimum balance? Rule of law: How serious is leadership? Role of the Party: How does the CPC exercise leadership? Governance reform means that the Chinese government is becoming more of a regulator, less of a decider — and now that the market can play a “decisive role”, this transition is accelerating.
In China socialist system, how to balance market and government has been a perennial issue. Better, I suggest, is how to optimize. What is optimum is often what is balanced, but not always. Rule of Law is not a concept that is rooted in Chinese culture. It was in 1997 that the CPC, for the first time, elevated Rule of Law to national imperative, setting the goal to "build a socialist country with Rule of Law".
Rule of Law is being strengthened in today's China — although issues remain, such as whether occasional interventions to achieve the so-claimed higher good of “rule of virtue” should ever supersede Rule of Law — and if it should, who makes that judgment?
As for the CPC's role in governance, the reform trajectory has not been linear. Initially, the trend was toward greater separation between Party and government; recently, toward the Party's more direct leadership of government, in response to increasing domestic pressures, such as a slowing economy facing rising expectations.
The challenge of increasing Party leadership is a natural tension between efficiency and productivity on the one hand, and checks and balances, on the other. Since reform and opening up began, China has conducted seven large-scale institutional reforms, streamlining bureaucracies, including a major one in March 2018.
China says governance reform should be progressive, not radical; adaptive, not doctrinaire; rational, not intuitive; and orderly, not chaotic. Governance reform in China is a work in process.
I'm keeping watch. I'm Robert Lawrence Kuhn.
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