Decoding President Xi's 'Four Comprehensives'

Updated: 2015-05-13 10:47

By Colin Speakman(

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Decoding President Xi's 'Four Comprehensives'

Chinese President Xi Jinping (back, 4th R), also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, joins a panel discussion with deputies to the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) from northeast China's Jilin province during the third session of the 12th NPC, in Beijing, capital of China, March 9, 2015. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chinese President Xi Jinping has encapsulated his guidelines for governing the country into the "Four Comprehensives", which refer to comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society, strengthening reform, improving the rule of law and ensuring party discipline. These derive from different initiatives during Xi's term of office so far.

Building a moderately prosperous society is a fundamental aspect of Xi's China Dream, first put forward in November 2012 – a rejuvenated China needs to see all its people getting better living standards. This goal also links the goals of the next five-year economic plan – doubling average incomes over a decade. How well all this will be achieved depends on China's economic growth in the future and how it is shared out. There is significant urban v rural inequality and the plan to move 250 million more Chinese into cities and increase productivity in the country side will be a major element. All achievable goal but requires strong economic management and some recovery of the world economy too.

Strengthening reform refers to the new policies set out at the important 3rd plenary of the CPC Central Committee in November 2013. While committing to the continuation of a socialist market economy with strong state actors (State Owned Enterprises – SOEs), it was recognized that some of these SOEs need reform and that market forces should to allowed to rise to the top as a means of resource allocation. This presents a challenge as many of these state actors are provincial and major city governments that have vested interests in preserving local industries. However we can be encouraged by Hebei Province agreeing to close many heavily polluting industries, despite the job losses, and Shanghai Municipal Government for pioneering financial changes, including experimenting with new small business taxation and developing blueprints for SOE reform.

The third pillar of the improvement of the rule of law was a major theme of the "Two Sessions" earlier in 2015. The legal system in China needs development in many areas – to protect the rights of farmers over leased land, the rights of businesses, including more transparency for rules impacting foreign businesses, capability to enforce contracts, to seek redress and compensation, to prevent polluting actives, to punish corrupt activities - to mention but a few. The development in part depends on new, sensible laws being passed and on the ability to enforce the law. This is a challenge in such a huge country and the long arm of the law needs an especially long reach here.

Finally, governing at national and local level with honest, law-abiding officials is an important measure to ensure fairness in society and prevent abuse of privilege. The warnings about the importance of weeding out corruption in government (thus CPC) affairs are long stated and predate Xi. His predecessor, President Hu spoke on how this could damage the CPC. President Xi has launched the "Tigers and Flies" campaign to root out corrupt activity at all levels. We have seen a few high-profile cases and it needs to carry on. It is a brave campaign, as it does show to the public that once admired officials were corrupt and it raises concerns that there might be more. Hence this needs to be a resolute process that exposes those still a party to all this.

An attack on four fronts is not easy to maintain, but all the four comprehensives are needed to support China's next stage of its impressive reform and opening up. Resolutely following-up in all four areas is the only way to achieve the goals for future generations. Go China!

The author is an economist and director of China programs at CAPA International Education, a US-UK-based organization that cooperates with Capital Normal University and East China Normal University.