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UPDATED: April 28, 2015 NO. 18 APRIL 30, 2015
The Political Theory of 'Four Comprehensives'
By Zhenis Kembayev

The "Four Comprehensives" have become China's new ideological directive, acclaimed by the Chinese media as a profound doctrinal breakthrough.

The first three comprehensives are quite familiar to Chinese politics and have been ideological mainstays for decades. The first of these was introduced in 1979, when Deng Xiaoping had already called for "building a moderately prosperous society" as the eventual goal in pursuing his vision of the four modernizations of agriculture, industry, military, and science and technology. In agriculture, rural communes were discontinued, and farmers were allowed to lease land and sell their harvest in markets.

In industry, Deng oversaw the establishment of special economic zones (SEZs), such as Shenzhen and Xiamen, where foreign investment was encouraged and new factories were established. Deng modernized the military by reducing the number of soldiers and improving military technology with advanced weapons systems. To improve science and technology, thousands of students were sent abroad, particularly to the United States, to study science and engineering.

All these efforts were aimed at materializing Deng's idea of a "moderately prosperous society," in which most people belong to the middle class and in which economic prosperity is sufficient to move most of the population on China's mainland out of poverty. Ultimately, the goal is to raise everyone to the level of income that they can pay not only for their basic food and shelter but also buy consumer goods, improve their health care and provide their children with education.

The two other comprehensives, the deepening of reform and governing the country according to the law, are also already familiar. Operating through consensus, compromise and persuasion, Deng engineered and consistently deepened important reforms in virtually all aspects of China's political, economic, and social life. His most important social reform was the institution of the world's most rigorous family-planning program in order to control China's burgeoning population. He instituted decentralized economic management and rational and flexible long-term planning to achieve efficient and controlled economic growth. China's farmers were given individual control over, as well as responsibility for, their production and profits. This was a policy that resulted in greatly increased agricultural production within a few years of its initiation in 1981.

Deng stressed individual responsibility in the making of economic decisions, material incentives as the reward for industry and initiative, and the formation of cadres of skilled, well-educated technicians and managers to spearhead China's development. He freed many industrial enterprises from the control and supervision of the Central Government and gave factory managers the authority to determine production levels and to pursue profits for their enterprises. In foreign affairs, Deng strengthened China's trade and cultural ties with the West and opened up Chinese enterprises to foreign investment.

While consistently "deepening reforms" and creating a new economic system, China did not abandon the ideology of Marxism-Leninism but rather accommodated its major principles to modern realities. Under the leadership of Deng, China established a socialist market economy, meaning that it established a market economy led by the Communist Party of China (CPC). Known as socialism with Chinese characteristics, the new economic system was based on an absolutely different role of the state in the economy. Whereas under the previously planned economic system, the state determined production and pricing, in a new market economy production and pricing are determined by consumer demand for goods and services.

The economic liberalization begun by Deng was continued by subsequent Chinese leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, who continued to develop a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics and were particularly successful in stimulating economic growth and development. On the other hand, fast industrial and agricultural growth caused pervasive corruption among government officials who profited from their power to grant permits and licenses and from their control over basic supplies needed by private businesses.

This situation of creating and stabilizing a new competitive economic environment necessarily requires the strict and fair application of regulations and governing the country according to the law.

Drastically accelerating market reforms, the CPC has also worked to increase public support by promoting compliance with the law, managing state affairs in full accordance with the law, fostering a socialist democracy and making the people the masters of their country, and conducting energetic anticorruption campaigns that rely in part on prosecution of high-level officials found guilty of corruption.

However, the fourth comprehensive--applying strictness in governing the Party--is a new measure introduced by Xi Jinping.

Applying strictness in governing the Party may seem similar to the general rule of law reforms and anti-corruption campaigns at first glance, but close examination reveals its significance.

This "comprehensive" clearly reflects the fact that China entered a new stage of its development and requires new approaches for achieving economic and political modernization.

Notably, since he became the general secretary of the CPC Central Committee in November 2012, Xi has invested much of his effort into the ambitious and far-reaching economic reform agenda that was unveiled at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in November 2013, during which the concept of the "new normal" was introduced.

The "new normal" concept has several notable features. First, the economy should shift to a medium-to-high speed growth pace compared to the rapid expansion it previously enjoyed. Second, economic infrastructure should be constantly improved and upgraded. Third, the economy should increasingly be converted from investment-driven to innovation-driven.

The concept reflects Xi's desire to renegotiate the relation between the central and local governments that has held throughout the reform period. Today, the nation's economy has now matured and with a per-capita national income of $6,560, China now qualifies as an upper-middle income country, by the World Bank's definition. To sustain high growth at this income level, China needs better governance, a more reliable legal system and considerably less corruption. Thus, "applying strictness in governing the Party" and conducting an effective anti-corruption campaign is an essential part of the foundation of a more successful economic and political system.

Better governance is needed for successful economic reforms. It is not surprising that Xi initiated an unprecedented drive against corruption that has resulted in the investigation or disciplining of thousands of officials at all levels of government.

Xi's fight against corruption is quite different from that of his predecessors and is truly comprehensive. Hardly a day passes without the fall of a high-ranking official or several mid-level or junior officials that have been taking liberties.

To be noted is also that Xi wants China to transform into a global power. Among his new concepts and initiatives a special role belongs to the Belt and Road Initiative.

Put forward by China to foster common development and enhance cooperation, the initiative addresses the issue of bringing together China's domestic interests and internal development with the interests and development of its neighboring countries in a mutually beneficial system of development and prosperity. Since he became president, Xi has made the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road a priority for strengthening cooperation with all countries involved.

The initiative was declared to be open to all 50 countries that have voiced willingness to participate in the project. It may be argued that the initiative is a huge and inclusive platform, which aims to combine the rapidly expanding Chinese economy with the benefits of all countries concerned.

Some Western analysts have labeled China's new initiative as a Chinese version of the Marshall Plan. Similar to U.S. Marshall plan, the Chinese plan aims at exporting their country's capital, technology and capacity to others who need them. Unlike the Marshall Plan however, the initiative by China does not seek to establish a China-owned hegemony in Asia and beyond. Instead, by helping other countries develop, China hopes to achieve a situation from which it and its partners can all benefit. Another difference is that the Chinese initiative is open to all countries regardless of their political regimes and willingness to conduct Western-style democratic reforms.

China does not desire to create a sphere of influence or selfish interests but rather aims to pursue and progress for all the international community. Promoting a new type of international relations and cooperation--such as political, economic, security and cultural fields--China plays a major role in upholding international justice and representing interests of all developing countries.

In order to become a truly global power, pursue its overall domestic and international interests and its development and security priorities in a balanced way, China must consistently implement all of the "Four Comprehensives."

Implementing the "Four Comprehensives" means continuing political traditions of the previous generations of leaders of the CPC and building socialism with Chinese characteristics, giving top priority to economic development and enhancing China's economic competitiveness, cultural influence and overall global strength.

This will no doubt be an enormous challenge, but it is the only way to realize the Chinese dream, which is about China's national rejuvenation, improvement of people's livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and building a global network of partnership based on international peace, development, cooperation and mutually beneficial outcomes.

Copyedited by Kieran Pringle

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