For China’s Communist Party, Stability As Usual Isn’t Enough

May 26, 2014

For China’s Communist Party, Stability As Usual Isn’t Enough

By Russell Leigh Moses

Recent public protests in Hangzhou over plans for a large waste incinerator there show once again that some Chinese citizens are raising questions about the quality of government they’re getting.

And according to a critical commentary on Thursday in the Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily, the present policy of maintaining social stability at all costs isn’t providing the right answers.  Instead, it’s another wake-up call to cadres to connect with the masses to make better policy.

Stability maintenance—the practice of making sure that local opposition to authority and policies in China stays local—has been Beijing’s default approach to potential unrest under previous leaderships. Under President Xi Jinping, the same strategy has emboldened cadres to repel calls for political change, especially from activists.

But too often, the commentary says, this pursuit of stability has compelled officials to simply stay with the status quo. That’s unhelpful because social stability “shouldn’t be something blindly sought, or be without brave advances and progress.”

“Society is founded not on violent undulations or a drifting, falling economy, but a healthy steadiness—something that’s also the goal of governance practiced by every local official,” the essay argues. By pursuing social stability at all costs, according to the essay, officials end up “striving to be passive, and that will produce steady stagnation and slackness, negatively impacting the morale of residents and eventually causing damage and instability itself.”

After all, the essay says, “public scrutiny is everywhere, with microblogging and letters to the media.” Cadres who are simply trying to hold on hold up progress.

Thursday’s commentary echoed an earlier analysis in People’s Daily of what caused the riots in Hangzhou. That essay sought to lay out a middle ground about the need for the Chinese government to be strong on the one hand, and yet not be silent when the public asks questions.

According to the author, “‘responsible people’ acknowledge the need” for waste facilities in Hangzhou and elsewhere in China. On the surface, there was no reason for public anger and anxiety to call a halt to the construction of trash incinerators.

However, the essay said, what happened in Hangzhou reflects the fact that “a solid foundation of mutual trust and communication” between government and citizens isn’t always present in China. Even when officials “work to untie the knot of suspicion, that does not always proceed smoothly.”

Determining what residents actually want, as the author puts it, requires “a front-line perspective”—to “see, hear, think, feel, and let more people know what is the reality, the truth.” Governing that way enables officials to “strive to make their observations and thinking richer, and to make their advice and suggestions more targeted” towards what citizens are seeking—which are not always the investment projects that historically brought cadres a higher profile and political promotion.

As another editorial about Hangzhou put it, “there’s a need [for officials] to be open and transparent, reasonable and legitimate.” Officials should stop focusing on “opportunities to punish criminals,” the commentary insisted, and instead look to rid themselves of “the lazy political thinking” that celebrates stability and quiescence.

While this need for dialogue between the Communist Party and the Chinese public isn’t a new plea, it comes at a time when Beijing is caught between the anxiety of an impending anniversary and apprehension about terrorist attacks.

Then there are also the growing signs of a slowing economy for cadres to contend with—an economy that, when it was growing faster, was often seen by Beijing as the best safeguard against unrest.

Still, the fact that Communist Party media are carrying an argument for something more than just the same old social stability is significant.  It indicates not only displeasure amongst the public about officials who talk but don’t listen, but dissatisfaction within the central leadership itself about just how well it can govern by relying on politics as usual.

Russell Leigh Moses is the Dean of Academics and Faculty at The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies. He is writing a book on the changing role of power in the Chinese political system.

 

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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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