In a closed door, four day meeting of senior members of the Chinese government, the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress met to address China’s future political strategy. The assembly, held in Beijing, comes one year after China’s new leadership ascended to power, for the purpose of detailing government reforms to spur the country’s continued growth.
Hyped as being the most important and influential policy briefing since that of the 1978 gathering featuring Deng Xiaoping’s sweeping reforms and rise to power, nothing short of comprehensive changes to financial and social policy were expected. New President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang had the opportunity to use the Third Plenum as a springboard to jumpstart its objectives of continued growth and forge legitimacy for its next ten years in power. But the communiqué released after the meeting left Beijing observers surprised and disappointed. Featuring little more than aged slogans and talking points, Xi’s government failed in its most important mission – to give momentum to reforms.
The lack of ingenuity and vague language on any type of substantial reform offered by the Third Plenum communiqué eradicated the optimism and hype generated prior to the event. The need for broad appeal by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) diminished the overall value of the Plenum to establish real results. Spread wide but not deep, the ‘details’ released mention five key areas of reform: economics, politics, society, the environment, and culture. By hitting all these issues, the CCP appeased many different groups, but broke no new ground. Written in a consensus process, it does little more than reaffirm the mantras and jargon of the 18th Party Congress of last fall.
The creation of a “leadership small group” to hash out economic modifications can be seen on the surface as a major policy progression, yet it only further confirms the ineffectiveness of the Plenum to specify how change will occur. The Plenum itself was supposed to be the vehicle in which these issues could be developed. Instead the responsibility was passed on to this new committee to cultivate a blueprint for economic reform. This leaves us with questions as to why the CCP leadership was unable to perform this task. Though to this point a great disappointment, the leadership small group will soon be an authoritative one, and this undertaking is far from over.