By WUYUN SIQIN & WANG YUJIA
IN November 2012, the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) put forward plans to establish and perfect the socialist consultative democracy system, and give full play to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s (CPPCC) role as an important channel for consultative democracy. In November 2013, the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee further included “consultative democracy” in the plan for comprehensively deepening reform.
Members of the CPPCC Guizhou Provincial Committee take a photo during the annual meeting in January 2018.
“We must incorporate consultative democracy into the overall layout of socialist democracy… We should enhance the effectiveness of consultations … further develop the forms of this democracy,” said Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, at the closing meeting of the first session of the 12th CPPCC National Committee in March 2013.
Since then, “consultation” has become a hot word at CPPCC meetings, involving innovative ideas.
Improving Institutions and Mechanisms
“The CPPCC should push forward system building for political consultation, democratic supervision and participation in the deliberation and administration of state affairs, constantly improve the institutions, procedures, and standardization of consultative democracy,” Yu said.
In 2013, with the approval of the CPC Central Committee, the CPPCC National Committee formulated the first annual political consultative plan in the history of the PRC. The process of formulating the plan itself is a process of consultation. Following extensive consultation, brainstorming and constant negotiation, a draft was submitted to the chairpersons’ meeting for review and approval before being examined and approved by the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.
Several members of the CPPCC Shanghai Municipal Committee take opinions and suggestions online regarding democratic supervision in January 2017.
Since 2014, the CPPCC has made overall arrangements for all major consultation and deliberation events conducted annually through the formulation of an annual plan, which has been brought into the overall work arrangements and decision-making procedures of the CPC Central Committee and State Council. It has greatly enhanced the planning for consultation and deliberation activities, and improves their authority.
“This is one of the biggest institutional innovations of the 12th CPPCC National Committee. It is also a crucial step in breaking new ground, innovating in the process of preserving our traditions and developing in the process of innovation,” said CPPCC National Committee member Yang Jianru.
A widely welcomed innovation in the system is the launching of a biweekly consultation forum. It invites CPPCC members from all walks of life to discuss and listen to opinions and suggestions on a regular basis.
The 12th CPPCC National Committee has stepped up institutional innovation and formulated and revised nearly 20 institution-related documents. At present, an institutional system that takes the CPPCC charter as the core and covers conference organization, regular work, and development of the CPPCC itself has been basically formed. As a result, the institutions, procedures, and standardization of consultative democracy have been constantly improved, and consultation and deliberation on state affairs have been conducted in an orderly and effective manner.
Broader and Frequent Consultation
Every March, domestic and international media focuses on China’s “two sessions” – National People’s Congress (NPC) and CPPCC. In 2016 they found that consultation was more prominent at the two gatherings. On the afternoon of March 11, the Fourth Session of the 12th CPPCC National Committee held group meetings to discuss and offer advice and suggestions on key issues. More than 210 officials from more than 40 ministries and commissions attended to hear their opinions and interact with CPPCC members.
This form of meeting, which was organized independently by CPPCC members of a certain field on a topic for discussion and invited officials of relevant government departments, was an innovative approach adopted by the CPPCC National Committee. It was fully affirmed by its members and appraised by participating ministry officials. In celebration of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the CPPCC in 2014, Xi Jinping required the CPPCC to conduct, in a flexible and regular manner, intensive consultations on special issues with people who work on these issues, with representatives from all sectors of society, and with relevant government authorities on the handling of proposals.
Doctors who are also members of the CPPCC Chongchuan District Committee, Nantong City of Jiangsu voluntarily see patients in October 2017.
At the closing meeting of the First Session of the 12th CPPCC National Committee, Yu Zhengsheng stressed innovating the CPPCC’s regular working methods, broaden the channels for citizens’ orderly political participation, and strive to build a multi-level and all-round consultation pattern.
In 2013, the CPPCC National Committee increased the number of its standing committee meetings on special topics from one to two every year. In 2014, the number of the national committee’s annual special topic consultation conferences also grew from one to two. In October 2014, the biweekly consultation forum made debut.
In each term (five years) of the CPPCC National Committee, the forum invites 1,600 attendees from CPPCC members and 320 attendees of heads of ministries and commissions to exchange opinions and suggestions. Therefore, voices of all groups can be heard.
On August 25, 2013, the CPPCC National Committee added another standing committee meeting of themed deliberation on “implementing the spirit of the eight-point rules on austerity and promoting morality by fostering fine conduct in the Party and the government.” Since then, the CPPCC Standing Committee meeting has included on-site exchanges. Members of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC National Committee, leaders of the central government, and heads of relevant government departments carry out frequent interactions. Responding to the call of the times for deepening reform, the CPPCC continuously enriches the forms of consultation and expands the consultation practice.
In the past five years, apart from the plenary sessions that conducted thorough consultations on major issues concerning reform, development, and stability, Standing Committee meetings, special topic consultation conferences and biweekly consultation forums also offer advice and suggestions on specific topics for discussion. The consultation covers economy, society, politics, culture, ecology, party building, and other fields. For example, in order to better contribute to the promotion of law-based governance, since 2014 the CPPCC National Committee has picked up at least one legislative issue at biweekly negotiations forum every year. In view of the key issues in building a well-off society in an all-round way, poverty alleviation became the theme of political deliberation at Standing Committee meetings in 2016 and 2017.
Generally speaking, the deliberative activities held by the CPPCC National Committee are different in scale, duration, content, and functions. However, they complement each other and effectively promote the joint development of comprehensive consultation, key issue consultation, special topic consultation, and various other forms of consultation, further advancing consultative democracy’s extensive, multilevel and institutionalized development.
On the afternoon of March 8, 2016, the CPPCC National Committee gathered to discuss an issue of broad concern – resettling people in the process of cutting overcapacity while pushing forward the supply-side structural reform.”
“I want to say three sentences,” said committee member Liu Zhibiao, “Instead of subsidizing zombie enterprises, it is better to subsidize dominant enterprises involved in reorganization and mergers. Instead of supporting overcapacity enterprises, it is better to subsidize consumers and customers. Instead of subsidizing sectors of excess capacity, it is better to train their employees.”
In response to his remarks, Feng Fei, deputy minister of industry and information technology, said: “In the process of cutting overcapacity, the government and market mechanism should work together to prevent moral hazards.”
Negotiation, interaction and communication are the defining features of these consultations. This is an important reason why they can gain substantial results.
Although the past meetings invited leaders from the central government and relevant departments under the State Council, they generally only heard CPPCC members speak, and there was very little exchange of opinions or interactivity on the spot.
According to CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping, the essence of socialist democracy is to have people discuss their own affairs to find the greatest common denominator of the desires and demands of the whole society. The platform of CPPCC is of great necessity, and a free and harmonious environment is also important.
“We encourage warm but non-confrontational discussions, sincere and serious exchanges, as well as sharp but not extreme criticism,” Yu Zhengsheng stressed during the 2014 “two sessions,” “The CPPCC consultative democracy must create a healthy consultation environment in which people can speak their minds freely, in a rational and restrained manner, and in accordance with laws.”
Consultation is for common development. As the reform goes deeper, more complicated problems have emerged. The CPPCC National Committee, the main channel for consultative democracy and a specialist consultative body, must carry forward the spirit of democracy, practice the concept of consultation, enhance the effectiveness of political consultation, and forge broad consensus.
Consultative democracy is rooted in China’s own soil, and has yielded positive results. Having developed multiple forms of consultation, the CPPCC’s consultative democracy is showing greater vitality. These new developments lead to a new normal, and call for efforts to start a new journey. While preserving its good traditions, the CPPCC is making constant innovations.
WUYUN SIQIN is director of the Communications Department of the CPPCC Newspaper, and WANG YUJIA is a reporter for CPPCC Newspaper.