Xi Jinping’s ‘Four Comprehensives’: What they mean for China’s future policy direction



Comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepening reforms, comprehensively implementing the rule of law, and comprehensively strengthening Party discipline – these are the concepts behind Xi Jinping’s new ‘strategic blueprint’ for China, namely, the ‘Four Comprehensives’.

On Wednesday, the People’s Daily – the official paper of the Communist Party of China (CPC) – published a front page editorial titled, ‘The People’s Daily’s first authoritative interpretation of Xi Jinping’s “Four Comprehensives”’. This story was also featured in China Central Television’s – the state broadcaster – main news program, and republished in Xinhua and Party papers throughout China.

So, why did the ‘Four Comprehensives’ receive so much media coverage?

Put simply, this new political theory will be the cornerstone to Xi’s era of governance. The publication of this editorial in the Party’s most important newspaper indicates that the ‘Four Comprehensives’ have received broad Party endorsement since Xi first introduced the concept in December last year. Just as the theories of previous Party leaders have historically shaped Chinese political discourse and development (think Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, Jiang Zemin’s ‘Three Modernisations’ and Hu Jintao’s ‘Scientific Outlook on Development’ ), we can anticipate that the ‘Four Comprehensives’ will serve as the supreme political guide to Xi’s government.

There are three key points we should take from the People’s Daily piece. The first is a practical one: the publication of this editorial comes ahead of the upcoming ‘Two Sessions’ – the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress (China’s legislature) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (the national advisory body) – in early March, during which Party members and officials will discuss national policies. It is without a doubt that this editorial was released in time to shape next month’s discussions (and beyond).

The second point relates to the content of the editorial. Not only do the ‘Four Comprehensives’ seek to give clarification and direction to Xi’s ambiguous ‘Chinese dream’ of national rejuvenation, they signify a shift in how the Party understands economic development. The editorial suggests that while ‘building a moderately prosperous society’ (the first comprehensive) remains the Party’s primary objective, social justice, rule of law and clean governance (the second, third and fourth comprehensives, respectively) are indispensible in this pursuit. These sentiments faintly echo Hu’s ‘Scientific Outlook’, which also propounded the need for ‘coordinated economic, political, cultural and social development’. The distinguishing factors for Xi, however, are that these areas are necessarily not mutually exclusive, and for that reason, the non-economic ‘comprehensives’ cannot be eclipsed in favour of economic growth (as they were under Hu).

Finally, the ‘Four Comprehensives’ will play a role in maintaining the Party’s political legitimacy. Historically, the CPC’s legitimacy has been attached to its ability to produce economic growth. However, this legitimacy is now under threat due to China’s recent economic slowdown. In June last year, Xi introduced the concept of the ‘new normal’ to describe this new era of decelerating economic growth. In doing so, he sought to replace the previous emphasis on the rate of growth with a focus on the quality of economic growth (eg, in terms of innovation/entrepreneurship and science/technology). Since early in his term, Xi has also used notions of the ‘Chinese dream’ and ‘dreams of a strong military’ to suggest that the Party’s legitimacy should be measured against factors beyond GDP-related achievements. Similarly, by placing emphasis on the crucial nature of social justice, rule of law and clean governance (all non-economic factors) to economic wellbeing, the People’s Daily’s interpretation of the ‘Four Comprehensives’ is a continuation of this narrative.

It will be interesting to see how the CPC seeks to practically incorporate the ‘Four Comprehensives’ into its future policies and decisions, and how the introduction of this theory might alter domestic perceptions of the Party’s political legitimacy. In the words of the People’s Daily, we might just be at the ‘intersection of history and the future’.

Jessica Tang is the East Asia Fellow at Young Australian in International Affairs.

This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. Please email publications@youngausint.org.au for more information.

Image Credit: Reuters

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