A New Taboo in Chinese Politics

 
 

On October 12, 2015, the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party approved a new edition of the Party disciplinary document. Compared to the previous version introduced on February 28, 2004 under General Secretary Hu Jintao, this version under Xi Jinping features a few new “don’ts.”

One of these new don’ts is that party members should not make negative remarks (wangyi) about general policy directions of the central leadership, disrupting the centralization and unity of the party (Item 2 Article 46).

This is not very consistent with the constitution of the CCP. According to Article 4 of the CCP Constitution, party members have the rights to: 1) attend party meetings and read party documents; 2) participate in discussions of the party’s policies at party meetings and through newspapers and magazines of the party; and 3) make suggestions and proposals on the party’s work.

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Clearly, the Politburo under Xi Jinping is very much interested in strengthening the authority of the central leadership. It regards any negative remarks as a threat to that authority. Party members are still allowed to discuss the party’s policies — as long as their remarks are positive. This is a matter of “political discipline,” and the most serious violators could be banished from the Party.

At two meetings on October 19, 2015, the Hebei Provincial Party Committee under the new party secretary, Zhao Kezhi, denounced his predecessor, Zhou Benshun. In a report on the meetings, Zhou was implicitly criticized for having violated this new regulation. The party cadres of the province made pledges to clean up the negative influences of their former party secretary and to demonstrate their absolute loyalty to the Party by not making any negative remarks about the Party Center.

In fact, there is still a grace period for the new Party disciplinary document to take effect. The new regulation was adopted on October 12, 2015 but will not take effect until January 1, 2016 (Article 133). Whatever the reasons for Zhou Benshun’s dismissal from the Party on October 16, 2015, this regulation should not have applied. Nor is it applicable to Levin Zhu (Zhu Yunlai, son of Zhu Rongji, former Chinese premier), who reportedly criticized the economic policy of the central leadership for being wasteful and counterproductive in a speech delivered at a forum in Singapore.

Starting January 1, 2016, party members should be very careful about their remarks on the policies of the party. There are basically two options. Option one: make negative remarks and face the penalty. Option two: make only positive remarks and avoid punishment.

The danger of all party members adopting the second option is that there will be no feedback on the performance of central policies.

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