The purpose of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) plenums is for the party to review a draft of the country’s new Five-Year Plan. Each plenum has its own major pronouncements. This is why they are watched closely by the international media, Sinologists, diplomats, foreign governments, multinational businesses, and policymakers. The 3rd plenum in 2003 initiated the shift from export-led growth to domestic consumption. Beijing had decided it could not depend entirely on the old formula of exporting goods to earn revenue from overseas. The 3rd plenum also called for better allocation of resources (including land) through the free market mechanism.
The 5th plenum focused mainly on social policy and the economy. In view of an aging population, and wary of the dangers of this trend, Chinese planners relaxed the rules on the one child policy. As such Chinese couples can now have two kids. With a changing value system and the younger generation’s shift away from the notion of filial piety, the state decided to pick up the mantle of looking after the elderly, by extending old-age insurance to all Chinese citizens.
In terms of the economy, the 5th plenum singled out technological innovation as a driver of economic growth, something repeated in the G20 Hangzhou meeting in 2016. The speed of economic growth was also moderated to realistic and sustainable levels. There were promises to double the incomes (GDP and per capita) in urban and agricultural areas. These economic targets were critical in ensuring that, by the 100th anniversary of the CCP in 2021, the party will enjoy greater political legitimacy amongst the people of China by establishing a moderately prosperous society.
The 5th plenum was also reasonably progressive as it promised better environmental management and protection with an accent on agricultural modernization/innovation and a cap on carbon emissions.
Traditionally, the last plenum of a five-year term of the National Congress focuses on ideological matters. The 6th plenum, to be held between 24-27 October 2016, will be the final one before the 19th National Congress in the autumn of 2017 (a once in five years gathering). The 19th Congress is widely expected to be a major event for leadership transition as President Xi Jinping will slot in his candidates into the party hierarchy and he may also appoint an heir apparent or successor to the top leadership position.
The 6th plenum has several objectives in mind. One is to foster party discipline amongst the CCP members. Tackling corruption remains high on the agenda of the CCP as President Xi has reiterated the need to make party discipline stronger than the law. This will tighten control over senior party members against the backdrop of the anti-corruption campaign. The CCP considers this development an intensification of the institutionalization of the anti-corruption campaign into permanently-construed regulations. In terms of party nomenclature, members are asked to show restraint and discipline in their intra-party political life and activities. The anti-corruption planners are the ones responsible for forging this round of party discipline. It strives to make these stricter rules normative amongst CCP members.
This revamp touches on the intra-party discipline regulations that were in place since 2003. Some see the stricter imposition of party rules as a prelude to greater centralization of control within the party. It is also a run-up to a major reshuffle of party personnel expected in 2017, particularly at the 19th National Congress. The trends of stronger party discipline and greater centralization may be indications of how the CCP intends to govern China in the near future.