Xi Jinping: Leading China’s reform into a new era

Beijing:  Wang Jun is a deputy editor and main author of the book “A Study of Xi Jinping Thought on Reform and Opening-Up.”

Paper and documents pile up in his office. These are what his team has collected for research in writing the book.

“Xi Jinping is a man whole-heartedly devoted to reform and opening-up,” said Wang, president of the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences.

In 2018, China celebrates the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up, a cause started by Deng Xiaoping and is now being carried forward by Xi.

In late October, Xi came to Guangdong Province. He visited a reform-themed exhibition at the foot of the Lotus Mountain in Shenzhen, spending more than an hour inside the museum halls.

It was a morning rush hour scene of the city in the 1980s. A giant poster stood tall before the Shekou industrial zone to constantly remind the city’s early builders to seize the moment and strive for economic miracles.

It was not the first time Xi visited Shenzhen, a prominent test-bed of China’s reform and opening-up.

“Coming to Shenzhen, Guangdong again (because) we want to declare to the world that China will never drag its feet on reform and opening-up! China is certain to show the world impressive new achievements in the next 40 years!” Xi said.

Six years ago, when Xi was elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, reform entered what many people call a “deep-water” zone. The CPC faced arduous challenges in reform, some foreign media claimed.

Xi has withstood the pressure and led China to achieve so much, Wang said.

The Chinese economy is being transformed from fast growth to high-quality development. In 2017, the growth picked up for the first time in six years, reaching 6.9 percent, way above the 3.7-percent global economic growth.

Over the past six years, more than 70 million new jobs have been created, more than the population of Britain. The size of the Chinese middle-income group has swelled to 400 million, constituting a huge consumer market in the world.

Overseas media called Xi “a far-sighted reformer” and “a serious reformer who built a unique path for China’s future” whose clear vision for reform “has inspired the nation.”

When China began the reform and opening-up in 1978, Xi was studying chemical engineering at Tsinghua University. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was then the Party chief of Guangdong Province.

The elder Xi had high hopes for reform. He sought Deng’s permission for “taking the first step” to set up a special economic zone that would break the new ground for reform.

The father’s courage and sense of mission left a deep impression on the son.

In the early 1980s, as Xi senior was promoted to Beijing, Xi Jinping was sent down to work in the county of Zhengding, Hebei Province. He began his reform experiments there, starting with the rural land contract trial, being the first in Hebei to adopt this practice already tested in southern provinces.

As the county Party chief, Xi already knew how hard it was to press ahead with reforms. He was critical of the “middle-level obstruction” issue and solved it by appointing willing and competent cadres to push forward reforms.

Xi’s reputation as a reformer was reinforced as he advanced his political career. In Ningde, Xiamen and Fuzhou of Fujian Province, Zhejiang Province and Shanghai Municipality, he kick-started innovative reform strategies to tackle different sorts of challenges.

“In a real sense, Xi comes from a reformer family. More important, Xi is deeply committed to reform,” said Robert Kuhn, a leading U.S. expert on China and chairman of the Kuhn Foundation, adding that when they met in 2005 and 2006, Xi spoke a lot on the importance of “reform in all facets.”

“Xi’s reform is derived from his experience,” said Shi Zhihong, a former deputy director of the Policy Research Office of the CPC Central Committee. “He knew that the rigid old paths would lead nowhere, and reform was a must.”

In 2012, reflecting on China’s reform cause, Xi spoke highly of Deng. “If there were no Deng who guided our Party to make the historic decision to reform and open up, we couldn’t have achieved this much,” Xi said.

“The reform and opening-up is a great awakening of our Party, and it gave rise to great theoretical and practical innovations,” he added.

Xi’s thinking and practices of reform in provinces have been compiled into books, from which observers say one can trace the roots of China’s comprehensive deepening reform that is being rolled out in the new era.

On November 15, 2012, Xi met the press right after being elected general secretary of the CPC Central Committee. He spoke of the need to adhere to reform and opening-up to continue liberating social productive forces, resolve people’s difficulties in life and work and stay committed to the path of common prosperity.

At the moment, Xi’s resolve to carry on the reform could not be more obvious. But Xi knew how hard it would be. All low-lying fruits have been picked, what is left are hard bones, he said.

People following Xi in his reforms need to be brave enough to cross hurdles in thinking and break through the blockade of vested interest.

Xi came to Guangdong in his first domestic inspection tour after assuming the Party’s top post. It was not by coincidence that in 1992 Deng visited Guangdong in his now well-known “southern tour.” Deng’s talks during the tour were instrumental in advancing the reform and opening-up.

In his 2012 visit, Xi paid tribute to Deng’s bronze statue. “Reform and opening-up is a make-or-break move that decides China’s destiny,” Xi said. “There is no pause or backtrack.”

The Financial Times said, “Mr. Xi is hardly the first Chinese leader to talk about the need for reform. But the tone of the pronouncements emerging from his weekend trip has been more forceful than those employed by past leaders.”

For Xi, reform must be carried on along the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Neither the old path nor the detour could work.

Xi insisted that reform shall suit China’s own needs for change, and China would not reform to make others happy. “Only the wearer knows whether the shoes fit or not,” he said.

The overall goal of deepening reform is to improve and develop the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and modernize China’s system and capacity for governance.

This overarching objective is described by observers as China’s “Fifth Modernization” drive.

According to Xi, the reform must balance several pairs of relations: between mind emancipation and truth-seeking; overall advancement and breakthroughs in key areas; top-level design and crossing the river by feeling the stones.

He Yiting, vice president of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, said Xi’s thought on reform has enriched and developed the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, said Xi answered the questions related to what to change, how to change in the new round of reform and who will implement it.

In November 2013, Xi presided over the third plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee that issued an extensive reform plan and a seven-year implementation timetable.

China’s deepening reform in all areas has caught the world’s attention. Some overseas media said the reform gave a big impetus to China’s lasting and inspiring rise.

Since then, the succeeding Party plenums have all stressed deepening reform, which constitutes a prominent fixture in Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

Xi has become the leader in China’s new round of reform and opening-up.

After the third plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, Xi served as the head of a leading group on deepening overall reform. When it was changed to a committee, he remained as the chair.

In the meantime, he also chairs a number of high-level committees and commissions on areas such as law-based governance, foreign affairs, cyber-security and informatization.

By heading these groups, Xi can have face-to-face discussions with people working in different areas and better learn about actual situations.

Xi went through each version of major reform documents, added his personal insights and pushed for major progress.

Take the market’s role as an example. In 2013, the Party decided to let the market play a “decisive” role in allocating resources. It sent a strong signal of policy adjustment as the original wording — “basic” — had remained unchanged since 1992.

When drafting the change, some people said it was still too early to make such a big leap. It was Xi who decided to make the change.

“Many of the major reforms would not have been possible if it weren’t Xi,” said an academic who was involved in drafting the document.

Xi led reform on multiple fronts to achieve breakthroughs: the gaps between urban and rural populations have been narrowed, the two-child policy initiated and pushed to yield results, splurge on government bills curbed, and vested interests broken up.

He constantly called on officials to have the perseverance to hammer away at obstacles until a task is done and make concrete, meticulous and effective efforts in reform.

Between late 2012 and late 2017, Xi took 50 domestic inspection tours, in which he researched and pushed for reform. The reform progress encompasses an expansive scope of fields.

In the economy, he made the judgment of new normal, initiated the supply-side structural reform and drew a clear line between the government and the market.

In science, he set the goal of turning China into one of the world’s science centers and an innovation high ground.

He led the anti-corruption fight to form a crushing tide and has won a sweeping victory.

He launched a major institutional reform to reshape Party and state organs, including the establishment of the National Supervisory Commission and the Commission for Law-based Governance of the CPC Central Committee.

Reform progress is reported on other fronts: people have stronger cultural confidence and sense of fulfillment; environmental protection systems are improved; and the armed forces have been reshaped.

In the five years since late 2012, more than 1,500 reform measures were issued. Reform picked up pace after the 19th CPC National Congress in late 2017.

In his 2018 New Year speech, Xi called on the Chinese people to “cut paths through mountains and build bridges across rivers” to advance reform.

Wang, the book author, said Xi has made breakthroughs in a number of tough and stalemated issues.

“Xi has been and is a remarkably comprehensive reformer, whose reforms are broader in scope than those of prior generations,” Kuhn said.

Xi has many challenges ahead. With great courage, he is ready to lead the Party and the country to forge ahead with the reform.

“A lot of progress has been made over the past few years,” Xi said. “But much can still be achieved as we embark on the new journey.”