China’s Communist leaders passed a highly anticipated “third historical resolution”, following in the footsteps of previous leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, but this time the grand announcement looked firmly to the future under President Xi Jinping.
The resolution was passed on Thursday by the Sixth Plenary Session of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. The full text of the resolution was not released but a plenum spokesperson gave a briefing on its contents on Friday (November 12).
Interestingly, the spokesperson appeared to play down Party General Secretary Xi’s new “common prosperity” drive, saying there were no shortcuts for Chinese people to become wealthy. Officials said private companies should participate in charity only if they were able and willing.
Whether the comments aimed to pinprick swirling speculation that China is veering from its recent and successful capitalist path is yet to be seen. At Friday’s briefing, officials blasted Western democracy as a “game of the rich” while saying China needs to “both grow the pie and divide it better.”
They said China needs to “fight monopolies and the disorderly expansion of capital” while at the same time “incentivizing people to get rich through entrepreneurship.”
Xi moved to pass the third historical resolution to articulate the party’s achievements on its 100th anniversary this year while articulating how he would make China more powerful in the future.
The first two historical resolutions, issued in 1945 and 1981 under then-paramount leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, vowed respectively to make China “stand up” and “wealthy.”
In the second historical resolution, Deng criticized Mao for initiating the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, where untold millions were killed in a frenzy of ideological violence.
In the resolution’s run-up, some political commentators anticipated that Xi would use the opportunity to rehabilitate the Cultural Revolution, criticize Deng for facilitating the nation’s capitalism-created wealth gap, and promote his “common prosperity” drive dubbed by some as “Cultural Revolution 2.0.”
However, a summary of the resolution shows it skipped over making declarations on several seismic and controversial incidents in recent Chinese history, including the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square massacre, but rather focused on praising “Xi’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
Wang Xiaohui, executive vice-minister of the party’s publicity department, said in the media briefing that the viewpoints and conclusions of the first and second historical resolutions remained valid.
Wang said the party’s work had seen some problems since the country began to reform and open up in the 1980s but China had in general walked on the right path and made achievements that attracted worldwide attention.
Wang said the reform and opening-up strategy fulfilled China’s needs and “helped the entire party gain wisdom, enhance unity, increase confidence and strengthen morale.”
He said the third historical resolution did not focus on the achievements and experiences of the reform and opening-up as they had been concluded in the previous documents in 1998, 2008 and 2018.
He said the latest resolution instead focused on how Xi had implemented socialism with Chinese characteristics since the 18th Party Congress in 2012. Wang also said such an approach would help the entire party and all Chinese people strengthen their confidence, focus on their current work and walk proudly in the new era.
Han Wenxiu, deputy director of the Office of the Central Economic and Financial Affairs Commission, said Xi had pointed out that China had to push forward common prosperity under high-quality economic development.
Han said to achieve common prosperity, problem-solving should be a top priority. He also said wealth redistribution was also important but it was not enough to realize common prosperity. Han said charity donations should be voluntary while “forced donations” and “killing the rich to help the poor” should not be encouraged.
He added that although China’s GDP per capita exceeded US$10,000, it had not yet reached the levels of high-income countries. He said even if all the Chinese people’s income was equally distributed to the population, it would not achieve common prosperity.
Han said there were no shortcuts for common prosperity, which had to be achieved by the hard work of all 1.4 billion Chinese people. He said private companies should continue to run their businesses legally and morally and treat their employees and customers well while participating in charity only if they had the ability and were willing to do so.
On August 17, Xi said at the party’s financial and economic affairs committee meeting that China should promote common prosperity and reduce the wealth gap. The meeting also called for improvements to education, “third distribution” or charity systems, and for developing an environment that provides opportunities for more people to become wealthy.
Since last year, the central government has imposed new regulations to curb reputed anti-competitive behavior among big internet firms including Alibaba and Tencent. To echo Xi’s call for common prosperity, Alibaba, Tencent and many cash-rich companies announced charity schemes. Investors fear that if these “donations” are coercive they may hurt companies’ profitability.
Wu Qiang, a former lecturer at the Political Science Department at Tsinghua University, said the third historical resolution only affirmed the party’s achievements but did not have any self retrospection about its setbacks, experiences and failures.
Wu said the first two resolutions were about struggles between leftism and rightism but the third historical resolution did not make any new points. He said the latest document was only aimed to provide a theological foundation for Xi to extend his term.
Hong Kong-based political commentator Johnny Lau said the third historical resolution was issued only to strengthen Xi’s leadership and legacy and allow Xi to extend his term by five more years at next year’s 20th Party Congress.
Citing a press release of the sixth plenum, Lau said Xi would continue to be the core of the party and manage China’s domestic and international affairs.
On Friday, the party unveiled how the third historical resolution was written. In April, Xi asked the Party’s United Front Work Department to solicit opinions from different sectors and the opinions and views were included in an initial draft.
On September 10, Xi held a forum with non-party members, mainly from business sectors, in Beijing to listen to their opinions about the draft.
On October 18, a meeting of the Central Committee’s politburo chaired by Xi discussed the draft and made some amendments. The politburo then submitted the final draft for the plenary session’s deliberations. It remains unclear what was amended or omitted from the initial draft.