1. Setting the stage to look at the plenum
Every policy dork in China is parsing the communique that emerged from the fifth plenum of the CCP’s 19th Central Committee which was released Thursday night.
- Obviously, so are we.
But before we get down to business, we want to clear up two misunderstandings about the plenum that we’ve seen floating around.
First, the Plenum did NOT approve the 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP).
- What it approved was the Party’s recommendations on the 14th FYP.
Get smart: The recommendations are general and descriptive. They can be understood as a detailed outline of the 14th FYP.
What to watch: The 14th FYP will come out next March. It will contain the specific, quantifiable targets that all you policy nerds love.
Second, the fifth plenum is unusual in that it also approved a 15-year vision for China’s development.
- But this is NOT the first time that the Party has put forward a 15-year vision.
- During the fifth plenum in 1995, the Party approved a vision for the year 2010.
Get smarter: The Party uses 15-year visions to keep everyone focused on long-term strategic goals as well as medium-term policy objectives.
2. Xi’s power grows
Important political events like the fifth plenum are good opportunities to gauge Xi Jinping’s power.
Our conclusion: He’s doin’ good.
At Friday morning’s press conference, Han Wenxiu, Vice Premier Liu He’s right-hand man and the drafter of the Party’s 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP) recommendations, was at pains to emphasize that the document was Xi’s baby (Xinhua):
- “The FYP’s recommendations were formulated under the leadership of General Secretary Xi Jinping personally.”
Hints within the document suggest that Xi enjoys even more support among Party elites than he did previously.
Indeed, for the first time, the plenum’s communique paid personal tribute to Xi for his leadership:
- “With Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Party Central Committee and the core of the entire Party at the helm, we will be able to overcome all the difficulties and obstacles that appear on the road.”
Some context: As in past years, the communique contained references to “Xi Jinping Thought” and “the Central Committee with Xi Jinping as the core,” but this is the first time it referenced Xi personally.
Get smart: Contrary to speculation that a challenging 2020 has made Xi politically vulnerable, the big man appears to be stronger than ever.
3. The 14th FYP: now with 100% more technocracy
The communique that emerged from the fifth plenum also provides a preview of the government’s evolving approach to technological development.
Just when you thought the Party had maxed out on technocracy (Xinhua):
- For the first time in the history of China’s five-year plans, innovation and sci-tech self-reliance form core pillars of the national development strategy and have been given top priority among national planning tasks.
The focus on tech isn’t entirely new:
- “Innovation-driven development” was a key feature of the 13th Five-Year Plan (FYP).
- But in this FYP, tech’s importance is elevated even higher.
Tech policy priorities in the 14th FYP are likely to include:
- Increasing technological self-reliance
- Becoming a technological superpower
- Cooperating on RD with foreign countries
- Powering growth through new modes of technology-related consumption
- Pushing to achieve carbon neutrality through technological innovation
- Using technology to upgrade agriculture and rural areas
- Modernizing China’s national security apparatus and technical capabilities
- Using technology to centralize bureaucratic processes
In other words: China doesn’t approach innovation and technological prowess as one of several discrete goals. Rather, tech is increasingly seen as the means by which China can reach its larger economic and political objectives.
4. Dual circulation front and center at plenum presser
The dual circulation strategy (DCS) also got some airtime at Friday morning’s plenum presser.
Han Wenxiu, deputy director of the Office of the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission, fielded a question that’s on everyone’s mind:
- Does the advent of the DCS spell the end of China’s experiment with economic opening?
Some context: Regular readers know that top leaders have been working on DCS – a new economic framework that emphasizes domestic consumption – since May.
Since then, officials have fallen over themselves to insist that DCS does not mark the end of opening up.
Han added his voice to this chorus of reassurance (Xinhua):
- “Building a new development pattern does not mean a reversal of opening up. On the contrary…the scale of China’s imports and exports, the use of foreign capital and investment will continue to expand.”
- “By…optimizing the consumption environment…and giving full play to China’s super-large-scale market advantages, we not only stimulate the domestic economy, but also create greater market opportunities for the rest of the world.”
It’s official: There you have it – even more official confirmation that China will remain open for business.
5. Out with the Wang, in with the Jiang
On Friday morning, one cadre came to the plenum press conference with a dashing new title.
- Seated prominently on the dais was Jiang Jinquan, the newly appointed director of the Party’s Central Policy Research Office (CPRO).
This is a big job:
- The CPRO serves as the Party leadership’s brain trust and is in charge of drafting key documents, including top policies and Party congress reports.
- The CPRO also runs the daily operations of the Central Commission for Comprehensively Deepening Reform (CCCDR), the country’s most important policymaking body, headed by Xi Jinping himself.
Who is Jiang taking over from?
- That would be the Party’s fifth-ranking official and ideology czar, Wang Huning.
Some context: Wang had been the director of the CPRO for 18 years.
But Jiang is also no stranger to the organization.
- Jiang’s career at the CPRO spans over 30 years.
- He has served as its executive deputy director since February 2018.
Get smart: Jiang has been running the CPRO’s daily operations in his capacity as executive deputy director. The promotion is procedural.
Get smarter: The move also doesn’t mean that Wang has been sidelined. He served as the deputy director of the drafting group of the Party’s recommendations for the 14th FYP, a title his predecessor didn’t have five years ago.
- Wang is now actually closer to the center of policymaking power than he was before.