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White Paper on China’s Political Party System

Dr. Raviprasad Narayanan was Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • November 23, 2007

    A month after the 17th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was convened in mid-October, 2007, the Information Office of the State Council published a White Paper titled China’s Political Party System on 15 November. Comprising seven chapters and one appendix, the publication of the White Paper is perhaps reflective of the deliberations within the higher echelons of the Chinese leadership on initiating political reform.

    The use of ideology is not new to the CPC and the last couple of years have witnessed sustained efforts by the Party in crafting a ‘political guiding ideology’ to justify its governing capabilities. This ‘political guiding ideology’ is built upon the foundation of economic reform and reflects the current trends of all-round modernisation and sets the goal of creating a “well-off society” by 2020.

    The White Paper is a reflection of the thoughts expressed by Hu Jintao at the 17th CPC Party Congress. In his address to the delegates at the Party Congress on the Scientific Outlook on Development, Hu Jintao made a distinction in identifying China’s current political temperament as echoing the spirit of ‘social democracy.’ To quote Hu, “[S]ocialist democracy has continued to develop and we have made steady progress in implementing the rule of law as a fundamental principle, but efforts to improve democracy and the legal system fall somewhat short of the need to expand people's democracy (italics mine) and promote economic and social development, and political restructuring has to be deepened (italics mine).”

    Weaving Hu Jintao’s concept of Scientific Outlook on Development and his statement on ‘social democracy,’ ‘people’s democracy’ and ‘political restructuring,’ the White Paper attempts to label China’s path of political governance as one that has successfully put behind its revolutionary years and has now embarked on the creation of a ‘political system’ that claims to be inclusive in allowing other parties to co-exist under the CPC which of course remains the primus inter pares. The values and functions of China’s “multi-party cooperation” system as detailed by the White Paper include political participation, expression of interests, social integration, democratic supervision and maintenance of stability. Due to the simultaneous processes of economic reform and social change, the Party in China is faced with ideological challenges that need to correspond with the aspirations of a new ‘social spectrum’ that increasingly is asserting itself through various Party mechanisms.

    Lending gravity to the document is the running emphasis throughout the text that China’s “multi-party cooperation system has created a new form of political party system in the world” which is a unique instance. Under the leadership of the CPC the eight parties that co-exist are: the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang (RCCK); the China Democratic League (CDL); the China National Democratic Construction Association (CNDCA); the China Association for Promoting Democracy (CAPD); the China Peasants and Workers Democratic Party (CPWDP); the China Zhi Gong Dang (CZGD); the Jiu San Society and the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League (TSL). For an avowedly socialist country to profess ideals for a wider participatory framework, the White Paper does generate several interpretations.

    First, the document should be seen as articulating the current leadership’s ongoing legitimisation process and setting the agenda for the next party Congress, when a new leadership (the ‘fifth generation’) will take over from Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Second, under the leadership of the CPC, the White Paper terms China’s political system as characterised by “multi-party cooperation” and “political consultation.” This could be interpreted as meaning that earlier affirmations calling for a radical departure in ideology and the eventual transformation of society into a communist one have been given a quiet burial! Third, the very publication of such a document is evidence of the shift in China’s political culture that in some ways has expanded to accommodate interests within the existing framework of the political structure but does not challenge the dominance of the CPC. Fourth, it could also be surmised that these incremental changes are influenced by new groups (or factions) within the CPC who have called for enlarging of the political space without compromising on stability – the greatest fear of the CPC. Lastly, as a political document, the White Paper invokes a vision of China’s political party system being an expression of social democracy.

    While classical social democracy aimed for the transformation of capitalism and its attendant ills through democratic means and state regulation, a disconnect does appear when a state that describes itself as being in the ‘primary stage of socialism’ identifies social democracy as its current reality.