Chinese President Xi Jinping is taking another step toward consolidating Communist Party control, Reuters reports:
China has issued new rules demanding the establishment of Communist Party panels in non-government bodies, aiming to beef up the ruling party’s role in such social groups, amid a broad crackdown on civil society.
Western governments and rights groups have already lambasted a law passed in April, saying it treats foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as a criminal threat and would effectively force many out of the country.
The new guidelines, released late on Sunday by the general office of the party’s central committee and the State Council, or cabinet, say party committees must be set up to ensure “effective cover” in all NGOs.
“Strengthen political thought education for responsible people at social groups, and guide them to actively support party building,” the guidelines said. “Promote the place of party building in the social group’s charters.”
Much ink has been spilled discussing the authoritarianism of Xi. As we see it, Xi is flexing his muscles and extending his reach because he wants a firmer grasp on the country as the economy falters. With tough times ahead and few good ideas about how to stave them off and keep growth rates high, Xi wants to make sure the Party doesn’t lose any control. That’s not to say that Xi has some master plan; a lot of this is simply a reaction to growing economic unrest.
Whatever the cause, it’s clear that the CCP is getting more centralized and more assertive. Foreigners are increasingly afraid to live and do business in China, and nationalism is on the rise.
Nonetheless, Xi’s attempts to exert power are running into some roadblocks. Take, for example, the trouble Xi’s officials are having getting provinces and state-owned firms to reform their operations. From the FT last week:
Beijing has struggled to make localities share the burden of pledged cuts and faces a tough task if it is to reduce coal capacity by 250m tonnes and steel by 45m tonnes as targeted by the end of the year.
Only 47 per cent of the national steel target and 38 per cent of the coal target had been hit by the end of July, with some provinces achieving just 10 per cent of their year-end goals, Lian Weiliang, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, said on Friday.
Reform means unemployment, and because China’s localities have spent decades building up capacity (housing, manufacturing, etc), the incentives to make use of the excess infrastructure are very strong. If a steel town has thousands of new apartments and hundreds of new restaurants and shops, it’s not just the people who run the steel factory who lose out if it shuts down. The chefs, waiters, movie theater owners, and the bankers who made the loans and own all the debt don’t want to see Beijing’s “reforms” come about either. Even worse, Beijing spent decades encouraging investment in manufacturing and the movie theaters and restaurants and housing for factory employees.
Turning around an ocean liner is difficult enough when the crew are all obeying orders. But Xi still doesn’t feel like he has full control of the boat.