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UPDATED: June 1, 2015 NO.23 JUNE 4, 2015
Four Comprehensive Pillars of Xisms
By John Ross  

Editor's Note: At the end of 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the strategic layout of the Four Comprehensives--comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society, deepening reform, advancing the rule of law, and strictly governing the Communist Party of China. Later, the new guideline for development became the overall framework for the current leadership's work and has aroused interest at home and abroad. From Issue No.17 published on April 23 , Beijing Review has put forth a series of commentaries by foreign researchers commissioned by Renmin University of China's Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies. This is the last commentary of the series, presented here in abridged form.

President Xi Jinping's Four Comprehensives have created as much interest within China-watching circles in the West as in China itself. The reason is clear: The Four Comprehensives show the way the Chinese Dream is not to remain in the mind but is to be turned into reality. A view of this concept from outside of China has the disadvantage that it cannot see the details, but the corresponding advantage is that it forces a focus on fundamentals. Chinese readers may therefore find it useful to know why the Four Comprehensives have created such discussion and interest--forming an analysis of what might be termed the "Xisms."

Xi always stressed that the Chinese Dream is in the interests of both China and the world at large. As emphasized in his first press conference after being elected general secretary of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in November 2012, "Our responsibility is to pursue the goal of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, so that China can stand firmer and stronger among the world's nations, and make new and greater contributions to mankind."

But because China contains one fifth of humanity, it can never be an ordinary country--very ordinary dreams by individual Chinese citizens have wholly extraordinary consequences for the world. Most notably, achieving the first comprehensive, "building a moderately prosperous society," which would take China to the threshold of a high-income economy by World Bank standards, would not only provide the rounded basis for achieving Chinese citizens' numerous needs but would also necessarily make China an extremely powerful economy internationally.

For those thinking of the interests of China or of humanity--or even of both simultaneously--achieving the first comprehensive would therefore be today's best possible approach. China's population is greater than those of the United States, the EU and Japan combined. China will almost double the number of people living in high-income economies in the world--an immense step forward not only for China, but for humanity as well. This is why China becoming moderately prosperous will not only be decisive in achieving the Chinese Dream but is the greatest step today that can be taken toward achieving humanity's dream.

But unfortunately there are those in the world who do not think of humanity's general concerns but only of their own particular vested interests. Such elements, exemplified by U.S. neo-conservative circles, see China's comprehensive national rejuvenation not as a "dream" but a "nightmare." But as Xi has noted, "Reviewing the past, backwardness left us [China] vulnerable to attack, whereas only development makes us strong."

Elements seeking to frustrate China's national rejuvenation have a clear policy to secure this goal--one sharpened by the success in destroying the Soviet Union and imposing what Russian President Vladimir Putin rightly termed "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," the disintegration of the Soviet Union." Russia was reduced from leading a state with a total population of 288 million to one with only 143 million, while wars still continue to unfold on the territory of the former Soviet Union--as recent conflict in Ukraine testifies.

The decisive goal of this plan is to weaken China and prevent it from achieving the Chinese Dream through the overthrow of the CPC. It is, after all, the CPC that has acted as China's bulwark against separatism, created the world's most rapid economic growth, achieved the world's fastest rise in living standards, and has its social base in a state economic sector which has, by allowing China to determine its investment level, ensured China's steady economic progress.

But those wishing to block China's national rejuvenation are being unrealistic. In the short term, it is impossible to dislodge the CPC, therefore they must attempt to find element within the CPC that could weaken it. This is the political meaning of the U.S. neo-con search for a "Chinese Gorbachev" to weaken and discredit the CPC, thus preparing the way for its overthrow.

But this runs into conflict with the fourth of the Four Comprehensives--party discipline. Long before Boris Yeltsin left the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in July 1990, he and the others who led Russia to national catastrophe had acted against the party's policies. Encouraging violations of party discipline is therefore key to facilitating the weakening of China.

At this point, the third of the Four Comprehensives, the rule of law, also becomes decisive. Corruption and other abuses of power in themselves involve legal violations. But attempts to deal with such problems through arbitrary personal actions can also be damaging and discrediting--as China and other countries have witnessed before. Therefore, it is vital that the struggle against corruption and other evils be carried out in accord with the rule of law.

Finally Xi's insistence that the second comprehensive--deepening reform--must yield visible results and improve the conditions of the people is, again, decisive. As Xi said, as he became general secretary of CPC's 18th Central Committee in November 2012, "The facts prove that the future and destiny of a political party and government depend on popular support. If we stray from the people and lose their support, we will end up in failure." To put it in simpler terms, Xi later emphasized that people must feel the beneficial effects of reform.

In some other countries, such as, again, Russia, reform has become a term of abuse as so-called reforms only served to aid those robbing the country, and to increase inequality, corruption, and national humiliation. Reform is only feasible with the people's support, and if the current reform is instead associated in people's minds with long-term improvement in their living standards and strengthening of respect for China across the world, the CPC's position will be consolidated. Party discipline aims to increase the quality of governance. Without this, the Chinese Dream is a faraway prospect.

Xi's Four Comprehensives are therefore not separate entities but an integrated whole. If implemented, they form the positive means by which the Chinese Dream will be turned into reality and also ensure that those attempting to thwart China's national rejuvenation will fail.

Now, let me take a look at the economic conditions that will surround the implementation of the Four Comprehensives. In many respects with steady inflation and low-growth volatility, China appears to be standing on very solid ground indeed. And that is not to speak of the global reappraisal of central planning occurring owing to the country's success, particularly over the past decade.

As it moves toward an internationalized yuan within an economy with open markets and financial service provisions, China's central bank, the People's Bank of China, adopted an unhurried approach toward financial reform and has thus navigated its way around some of the pitfalls inherent in such a process, such as over-reliance on inflation targeting that might otherwise have led to domestic financial collapses. Neither volatility of interest rate nor that of exchange rate has led to the loss of public resources. This put China in good stead should any shocks of the magnitude of the global financial crisis come darting out of the blue.

Given its attempts to bolster global interconnectedness and to increase accountability and transparency, as well as its sound underlying economic basis and well thought-out political rationale, is it therefore any wonder that the Four Comprehensives have created such interest not only in China but at a global level too?

The author is former director of the Department of Economic and Business Policy of London

Copyedited by Kieran Pringle

Comments to zanjifang@bjreview.com

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