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Overview of Chinas political

system
Chinas current state constitution was adopted in 1982 and subsequently amended four
times1. Its third chapter, entitled Structure of the State, describes Chinas unicameral
legislature, the National Peoples Congress (NPC), as the highest organ of state power.
According to the state constitution, the NPCs role includes supervising the work of
four other political bodies. They are listed below:

The State Council. The state constitution describes it as the highest organ of
state administration; it oversees the state bureaucracy and manages day-to-day
administration of the country.
The State Central Military Commission. The state constitution says it
directs the armed forces of the country.
The Supreme Peoples Court. The state constitution calls it the highest
judicial organ.
The Supreme Peoples Procuratorate. It is Chinas top prosecutors office.

This political power structure is illustrated in Figure 12. The Communist Party of
China is not mentioned in Chapter 3 of the state constitution, although Communist
Party leadership is mentioned in passing five times in the state constitutions preamble. 3
The Communist Partys own constitution provides more detail about Party leadership of
the political system, the economy, and society at large, stating that the Party commands
the overall situation and coordinates the efforts of all quarters, and the Party must play
the role as the core of leadership among all other organizations at corresponding levels.
The Party constitution explicitly states that the Communist Party persists in its
leadership over the Peoples Liberation Army and other armed forces of the people. 4
The Party exercises that leadership through a Party Central Military Commission.
It, rather than the State Central Military Commission, commands Chinas armed forces;
the State Military Commission, which has identical membership to the Party Central
Military Commission, is believed to exist in name only. In the Party constitution, Party
leadership of the legislature, the State Council, the courts, and the prosecutors office is
1 The 1982 state constitution with all subsequent amendments incorporated into
the text is available in English at http://english.gov.cn/200508/05/content_20813.htm.
2 Source: State Organs, Xinhua News Agency,
http://news.xinhuanet.com/ziliao/200302/11/content_724234.htm.

not explicitly stated, but is implied. In practice, the Party nominates the leaders of all
four bodies and operates Party committees within each of them. The courts and
prosecutors offices, the police, and some ministries report directly to Party Central
Committee commissions and departments.
Figure 2 provides an approximate illustration of Chinas power structure as currently
implemented, with the Communist Party in charge 5.

3 The clearest statement of Party leadership in the state constitutions preamble is,
Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the guidance of
Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the Important
Thought of the Three Represents, the Chinese people of all ethnic groups will
continue to adhere to the peoples democratic dictatorship and the socialist road,
persevere in reform and opening to the outside world, steadily improve socialist
institutions, develop the socialist market economy, develop socialist democracy,
improve the socialist legal system, work hard and self-reliantly to modernize the
countrys industry, agriculture, national defense and science and technology step by
step, and promote a coordinated development of material, political and spiritual
civilizations to turn China into a socialist country that is prosperous, powerful,
democratic, and culturally advanced. (Italics are CRS.)
4 For an English-language version of the Party constitution, as revised and adopted
on November 14, 2012 at the Partys 18th National Congress, see "Full Text of
Constitution of Communist Party of China," Xinhua News Agency, November 18,
2012, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/special/18cpcnc/201211/18/c_131982575.htm
5 Source: CRS research.

The Communist Party of China


(CPC)

With 85 million dues-paying members, just over 6% of Chinas population of 1.35


billion, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is the largest political party in the world 6.
As noted above, it is Chinas dominant political institution, exercising leadership over
the entire political system.
The Communist Party constitution requires the Party to hold a national congress every
five years. The most recent congress, the 18th, was held in November 2012. At each
Congress, delegates elect a new Central Committee in a modestly competitive process:
the Party leadership nominates approximately 10% more candidates than available
positions. The current Central Committee is composed of 205 full members and 171
alternate members. They include 33 women (8.8% of the full 376-member Central
Committee) and 39 ethnic minorities (10.4%)7.
Each meeting of the Central Committee is known as a plenum. At its first plenum
following a Party Congress, the Central Committee elects from among its members a 25person Politburo, a more elite Politburo Standing Committee, which currently
has seven members, and a General Secretary, who serves as Chinas top leader and
who is required to be a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. These elections
are believed to be non-competitive, with the outgoing Party leadership nominating only
as many candidates as positions available. According to the Party constitution, the
Standing Committee then nominates members of the Party Secretariat, which
manages the daily operations of the Politburo and its Standing Committee and oversees
Party Central Committee departments and commissions. Members of the Secretariat are
subject to endorsement by the Central Committee. The Members of all the Party
leadership bodies are elected or endorsed for five-year-long terms, until the next Party
Congress.
The top officials in all non-Party institutions routinely hold concurrent Party posts,
although they often do not publicize them. Party committees are embedded in the State
6 2012 8512.7 (By the End of 2012, National Party
Members Reached 85.127 Million), Xinhua Daily Telegraph, July 1, 2013,
http://news.xinhuanet.com/mrdx/2013-07/01/c_132499421.htm.
7 For details of the election of the 18th Central Committee in November 2012, see
Zhang Sutang, Qin Jie, Huo Xiaoguang, and Li Yajie, "
9.3%," (The Ratio of Competitiveness for the 18th Central Committee
Election was 9.3%), Xinhua News Agency, November 15, 2013,
http://politics.people.com.cn/n/2012/1115/c1001-19584526.html. At the 18th Party
Congress, the outgoing Politburo offered delegates 19 more candidates than the
205 full Central Committee member positions available, and 19 more candidates
than the 171 Central Committee alternate member positions available. The Party
did not publicly release vote counts for individual candidates.

Council, ministries under the State Council, the legislature, the courts, prosecutors
offices, state-owned enterprises, and all other public institutions, such as universities
and hospitals, as well as in most private companies and many non-governmental
organizations.
At the sub-national level, provinces, counties, and townships all have a Party committee
and a parallel peoples government, with the Party Secretary of the Party committee
serving as the geographic units top leader.
Following Figure 38 displays the Hierarchy of the Communist Party of China.

8 Source: Communist Party of China News Portal,


http://cpc.people.com.cn/GB/64192/index.html.

The Communist Party Politburo


Standing Committee
The Communist Partys Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) serves as Chinas most senior

decision-making body. The Party constitution requires that Party committees at all
levels of the Chinese political system operate according to the principle of combining
collective leadership with individual responsibility based on division of work. 9
Accordingly, each of the seven members of the PSC shoulders primary responsibility for
a specific portfolio.

The Party General Secretary serves concurrently as Chairman of the Party and
State Central Military Commissions, which have identical memberships, and as
State President. He also oversees foreign policy and, according to the Party
constitution, has responsibility for convening Standing Committee and larger
Politburo meetings and presiding over the work of the Party Secretariat.
The second-ranked PSC member serves as Premier of the State Council, which
manages the state bureaucracy. He is effectively Chinas top economic official.
The third-ranked PSC member serves as Chairman of the Standing Committee of
the National Peoples Congress (NPC), Chinas unicameral legislature.
The fourth-ranked PSC member serves as chairman of a political advisory body,
the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National
Committee. He is responsible for outreach to non-Communist groups, such as
Chinas eight minor political parties, all of which pledge loyalty to the Communist
Party, and state-sanctioned religious associations.
The fifth-ranked PSC member heads the Party Secretariat, which oversees the
Party bureaucracy. He also has responsibility for ideology and propaganda.
The sixth-ranked PSC member heads the Partys Central Disciplinary Inspection
Commission (CDIC), which polices the Partys ranks for corruption and other
forms of malfeasance.
The seventh-ranked PSC member serves as the top-ranked State Council vice
premier and assists the Premier with his duties.

9 "Full text of Constitution of Communist Party of China," Xinhua News Agency,


November 18, 2012, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/special/18cpcnc/201211/18/c_131982575.htm. The principle of collective leadership is presented in
Chapter 2, Article 10 (5).

The collective leadership principle is generally understood to mean that the General
Secretary must win consensus from his Standing Committee colleagues for major
decisions.
Since 1997, China has evolved a set of age limits for top Party offices, although it is
unclear if these are norms or rules. At the last three Party Congresses, in 2002, 2007,
and 2012, no one older than 67 was appointed to a new term on the Politburo Standing
Committee or the broader Politburo. Five of the seven Politburo Standing Committee
members (all except Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang) and 6 of the 18 regular Politburo
members will be over the age of 67 by the time the 19th Party Congress is scheduled to
be held in 2017, and thus are expected to retire then. Barring unforeseen developments,
Xi and Li are expected to be elected to new terms in 2017, retiring in 2022. Party and
state leaders are limited to two five-year terms in the same position.

The externl and internal concerns


1. Challenges in Governance

In recent decades, global events and internal strife have brought the CCP to the brink of
collapse several times. The 1989 Tiananmen democracy riots and the collapse of the
Soviet Union at the early 1990s triggered a series of existential crises for the party that
forced it to reconsider its mandate. The Soviet implosion in particular pushed the CCP
to undertake systematic assessments of the causes of regime collapse and institute
intraparty reform in order to avoid a similar fate. It determined that an ossified partystate with a dogmatic ideology, entrenched elites, dormant party organizations, and a
stagnant economy would lead to failure, according to David Shambaugh's 2008
book China's Communist Party.
Since then, the CCP has shown a technocratic capacity to adapt in response to the
developmental stresses of society brought on by China's dizzying economic rise.
Today's party "is all about joining the highways of globalization, which in turn
translates into greater economic efficiencies, higher rates of return, and greater
political security," writes Richard McGregor in his 2010 book The Party.
Still, leaders at the top of China's power structure today lack the long-term vision for
the party that reformists of the 1980s such as Hu Yaobang possessed; Hu, the former
party general secretary, promoted greater party transparency, and Deng's freemarket reforms10 modernized China's economy.

2. Internal vs. External Security Issues in China


Perhaps most pressing is the CCP's treatment of the massive income disparity that
China's economic boom created; in mid-2012, the CCP announced a new income10 http://www.economist.com/node/21533354

distribution framework11 set for approval to redress the growing gap. The country's
emergence as an economic superpower has heightened governance challenges as China's
middle class expands. In particular, the "side effects of rapid economic growth,
including the gap between rich and poor, rising prices, pollution, and the loss of
traditional culture are major concerns, and there are also increasing worries about
political corruption," according to the Pew Research Center12.
Health care also has been a major initiative for the party as a vast aging population
drives government efforts to broaden insurance coverage. Spending on health care will
increase to $1 trillion13 annually by 2020, according to the consulting firm McKinsey &
Company, from the $357 billion spent in 2011, and medical insurance now covers more
than 90 percent of the population, although coverage is often limited.
The party has also moved on energy policy, releasing a white paper14 outlining
China's initiatives for the next five years that includes developing clean energy to reduce
its carbon footprint. Heavy smog in China prompted a series of reforms to improve air
quality and energy use. The government announced in June 2013 reforms15 to restrict
air pollution, including the country's first carbon market and an allocation of $275
billion over the next five years to improve air quality. It also eased prosecution of
environmental crimes and increased local accountability for air quality problems. In
September 2014, Beijing launched a resource tax on coal16 based on price rather than
quantity, in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions and boost energy savings.
11 http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-05/23/content_15360815.htm
12 http://www.pewglobal.org/2012/10/16/growing-concerns-in-china-aboutinequality-corruption/
13 http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/28/us-china-healthcareidUSKBN0GS07920140828
14 http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2011/11/22/China-toutsclimate-change-initiatives/UPI-95471321986556/
15 http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21583245-china-worlds-worst-polluterlargest-investor-green-energy-its-rise-will-have
16 http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-09/29/c_133683048.htm

China's economic growth, which has slowed since its breakneck double-digit growth in
the early 2000s, has also been a point of concern for policymakers who have called for
reforms to increase domestic consumption and curb reliance on exports for growth.
Beijing, despite facing waning growth17, has vowed to meet its target of 7.5 percent GDP
growth in 2014 and implemented a series of "mini-stimulus" measures18.
Meanwhile, China's burgeoning power on the global stage has sparked widespread
perceptions of the country as an aggressive, expansionist power. Beijing has protested
plans for U.S.-South Korean naval cooperation in the Yellow Sea and reacted
vehemently to the U.S. sale of arms to Taiwan. It has staked unwavering claims on
islands in the East and South China Seas19a move that pits the country against Japan
and four other neighbors and has caused a diplomatic rift and stalemate in the
immediate region. The bolstering of U.S. defense ties with Asia-Pacific partnersJapan,
the Philippines, and Vietnamhas stoked China's maritime assertiveness. China
declared an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone20 in November 2013 and has
conducted oil and gas exploration projects in contested waters. But Beijing has also
courted its neighbors: China proposed a "friendship treaty"21 and offered $20 billion in
loans to Southeast Asian states at the 2014 ASEAN summit. And leaders from China and
Japan held formal talks22 for the first time in two years on the sidelines of the 2014 Asia17 http://online.wsj.com/articles/china-third-quarter-gdp-slows-to-7-3-growth1413857081
18 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-13/china-seen-taking-steps-to-aidgrowth-after-credit-plunge.html
19 http://www.cfr.org/asia-and-pacific/chinas-maritime-disputes/p31345#!/?cid=otrmarketing_use-china_sea_InfoGuide
20 http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-11/23/c_132911634.htm
21 http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/13/us-myanmar-asean-chinaidUSKCN0IX0W920141113
22 http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/f8765ae2-6896-11e4-af0000144feabdc0.html#axzz3IsDzFb9p

Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, indicating a possible thaw in Sino-Japanese


relations.
Some experts contend that while China's relative power has grown significantly with its
economic rise, its foreign policy aims remain defensive in nature: destabilizing
influences from abroad, avoiding territorial losses, and sustaining economic growth.
Unlike before, "China is now so deeply integrated into the world economic system that
its internal and regional priorities have become part of a larger quest: to define a global
role23 that serves Chinese interests but also wins acceptance from other powers," write
Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell in Foreign Affairs.
By and large, the rational objective for the new leadership in China is to move away from
an antagonistic relationship with the United States, experts say. But U.S.-China
relations could continue to suffer until Beijing adjusts its foreign policy and political
structure more radically, starting with the normalization of its regional relationships.
Still,"Washington should resist framing24 its relationship with China as a competition,
writes Economy in Foreign Affairs. "Treating China as a competitor or foe merely
feeds Xis anti-Western narrative, undermines those in China pushing for moderation,
and does little to advance bilateral cooperation."

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