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China’s two sessions scheduled for the year 2018, the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the meeting of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), got under way on Monday. These meetings constitute the second plenum of the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, the first plenum being the National Congress itself.

The usual mandate of the second plenum is to elect the next administration and to begin enacting laws, rules and regulations in accordance with the directive given by the party congress.

The statement by Xi Jinping at the beginning of the 19th Party Congress last October was sort of the party’s statement of fact on its self-perception on where it stands and where it sees itself progressing during the next five-year period, the target audience being the people of China and the world as well.

Moreover, Xi’s statement in his capacity as general secretary of the CPC was not a hollow wish list but a comprehensive and collective statement on behalf of the entire central leadership. Based on that, various new policy initiatives can be expected to be announced at the upcoming NPC and CPPCC meetings.

The NPC is expected to study and review the government work report and make various changes accordingly. First and foremost, the Chinese national constitution is set for a revision after the revision of the party constitution last October. Here again one can expect the inclusion of “Xi Jinping thought” as well as the Belt and Road Initiative in the national constitution. Thus the new constitution will reflect “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”

The next major shift may have to do with the reformulated principal contradiction facing China unveiled by Xi in October. He said then, “What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.”

‘Historic shift’

Xi also spoke of the “historic shift that affects the whole landscape and that creates many new demands for the work of the Party and the country.” There are two ways to look at this particular statement. First, in terms of China’s growth strategy, this reorientation could mean that China can focus on qualitative development and stress delivery of public goods such as health care more stringently and with a stronger element of accountability and stronger sense of delivery.

Second, it can be seen in the context of the ongoing process of legal reforms in China. The search for “rule by law with Chinese characteristics” has been a vital area of reform. However, it needs a reminder that rule by law will be under the CPC, thus maintaining the supremacy of the party.

Various meetings of leading small groups, the super-executive arms of the party, have already been held since the 19th Party Congress, and these meetings have given sufficient indications of the policies that are likely to be enacted. For example, the three-day economic forum held in December announced the priority targets in areas of innovative manufacturing, a more secure financial system, a more open and green economy, more affordable housing and better life for the people for the next three years.

‘Democratic life sessions’

The CPC also held its “democratic life sessions” in the last week of December. The previous such sessions were in 2013 at the beginning of the anti-corruption campaign.

One of the principal messages that seems to have emerged from the recent session is the reaffirmation of Xi’s “core” status and some degree of praise for his leadership as well in words like “firm faith and will,” “extraordinary political wisdom,” and “strong sense of responsibility.”

Coming closely on the heels of the 19th Congress of the CPC and with the message of reaffirmation of the leadership, the December meeting did raise a few eyebrows on the timing as well as its necessity. Party congresses are also known for intense bargains for appointments and promotions of protégés among various factions. Now that the dust has settled, unity and showing support for Xi are important.

The CPC has a highly tight schedule of ideas and objectives to be achieved listed in the party document of the 19th Congress. Ensuring unswerving unity of cadres and officials behind Xi Jinping Thought for the New Era seems to be the ultimate target of the recently held meeting.

In his report presented to the 19th Party Congress, Xi included a 14-point list of fundamental principles deemed essential for the implementation of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. These ranged from deepening reforms and developing a people-centered approach to ideas over party leadership of the army and reunification of Taiwan with the mainland.

Described as basic theory and policy, all members of the party are required to implement these principles fully. The NPC and CPPCC will operate within these guidelines set out by Xi Jinping.

Avinash Godbole

Dr Avinash Godbole is is an assistant professor with O P Jindal Global University, specializing on China studies and international relations. The views expressed here are personal.

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