The just concluded lianghui, or two sessions, of China—the Second Session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) and the Second Session of the 12th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee—are important to understand new policy initiatives of the country.
The NPC has primary legislative responsibility under China's Constitution to approve policies, laws, the budget, and significant state personnel changes. Conversely, as the name implies, the CPPCC's primary responsibility is to provide political consultation and democratic supervision. During the past decade, both lawmaking and consultation have been enhanced through an increase in the number of delegates as well as the rise of social media.
Combined, the lianghui is a mechanism by which both the focus and tone of legislative policy initiatives are set in China. In 2014, this is done primarily by Premier Li Keqiang's government work report that was delivered at the beginning of the NPC.
Li noted in his report that "reform has brought us the greatest benefits. Reform is the top priority for the government. We must rely fully on the people and break mental shackles and vested interest groups to deepen reforms on all fronts." He emphasized China's commitment to carrying on economic reforms, while also setting the 2014 growth target at 7.5 percent in order to keep a "proper economic growth rate" that is essential for China.
The government work report suggests that the Communist Party of China (CPC)'s push to comprehensively deepen reform be extensive and ambitious. The report set the tone for work by emphasizing reform.
With comprehensive reform comes risk. The Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee and the lianghui mark the beginning of a period of serious economic reform that will shift China away from an investment-led model dominated by state-owned enterprises and toward one driven more by domestic consumption and greater competition in the marketplace. If reform is to be successful, the guiding principles of reform need to be translated into tangible and achievable performance targets so as to motivate bureaucrats to carry out real reforms as proposed by President Xi Jinping and Li.
The risk comes primarily from entrenched interests and bureaucracies who oppose reform because it threatens their current operations, arrangements, and/or lifestyles. They may threaten reform through passivity and quiet opposition, as well as through slow implementation and corruption. If reform is to be carried out—and it will be—it must be carried out aggressively and broadly. Bureaucratic inaction, opposition, and continued corruption could threaten—and even derail—the CPC's plan for comprehensively deepening reform. That would not just be a mere problem for China. Rather, it would be a disaster, given the history of China since reform and opening up.
In this respect, the plan outlined by Premier Li in the government work report, as well as the Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reform, are decisive to China's future. Fully implementing the reforms outlined by Li in the government work report, as well as the 60 points outlined in the decision, could lead to meaningful and broad improvements to China by boosting productivity, efficiency, and innovation in the economy, improving the lives of millions of migrant workers through people-centered urbanization, and making tangible progress on cleaner air and water.
The author is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a professor of political science