Social Governance by the Communist Party of China: The Present State and the Future Prospects

Kazuko Kojima

1. Introduction

With the quinquennial Party Congress this autumn, the Xi Jinping administration is attempting to deal with the domestic and the international situation by primarily securing political and social "stability." Mounting tensions with the United States over Taiwan and the economic stagnation associated with the zero-COVID policy --- if the Xi Jinping administration failed to address these problems and jeopardized the lives of citizens, social unrest might disrupt the solidarity of the Communist Party of China (CPC) leadership and destabilize governance. In China, where there are no free and competitive elections, social conditions and trends in public opinion do not directly affect national political trends; but they could constitute a factor that destabilizes the legitimacy and solidarity of the leadership. Maintaining social stability is vital for the Xi Jinping administration to have its legitimacy recognized by the CPC. With these considerations in mind, this paper will discuss how the Xi Jinping administration has endeavored to govern society.

At the time of its inauguration in 2012, the Xi Jinping administration seems to have noted the following two factors as pressing challenges in China's social governance. First, the protection of the one-party system from the plot of "peaceful evolutions (和平演変)" engineered by hostile foreign forces. "Peaceful evolution" is a Chinese phrase that refers to the moves of the United States and other "Western" countries to instill pro-Western values among the public of a targeted country not by military force but by utilizing public discourse space, NGOs, Christian churches, and intellectual networks, thereby ultimately overthrowing the socialist regime of the targeted country. The Xi Jinping administration had a keen sense of crisis that China should be the next "peaceful evolution" target. This sense of crisis is symbolically depicted by the educational propaganda film "Quiet Struggle (較量無声)" released in June 2013 by the Chinese People's Liberation Army, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. The motion picture features the story of "peaceful evolutions" consistently implemented by the United States in various parts of the post-Cold War world. According to the film, the US government got the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Ford Foundation, the Carter Center, the Asia Foundation, Internews, and others to influence the public opinion of the target countries through local NGOs and intellectual network, thereby implementing a series of "peaceful evolutions" --- the "color revolutions" in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the "Arab Spring," and the Occupy Central movements. "The next target is none other than mainland China" --- such a sense of crisis seems to have been widely shared by the CPC leadership. Second, the strengthening of the legitimacy of the CPC one-party rule by achieving equitable governance based on law and discipline in all spheres of politics, the economy, and society. The problem of corruption and bribery prevalent in the central and the local government was considered a grave problem that could have a critical impact on the normal operation of the Chinese economy and social stability.

To meet the above challenges, Xi Jinping depended on the power of the CPC organization, which stretched from the center to the provinces and local communities. In my view, Xi Jinping does not trust the corruption-ridden bureaucracy; on the other hand, he seems to have a certain degree of trust in the organization of the CPC. Under the current regime (党国体制: the party-state regime) in which the CPC, government, and bureaucracy are integrated, the CPC is not exempt from corruption problems; nonetheless, Xi Jinping seems to believe that the CPC can tighten discipline through education. This is evident from the fact that the 19th National Congress of the CPC (October 2017, referred here to as the 19th National Congress) included in the Constitution of the CPC the phrase "Party, government, military, civilian, and academic; east, west, south, north, and center, the Party leads everything." Along this policy line, Xi Jinping has been endeavoring to deal with the two crucial challenges in social governance by utilizing the CPC organization.

In the following discussion, this paper will focus on how the framework for social governance utilizing the CPC organization is being built under the Xi Jinping administration. Specifically, it will analyze in turn: (1) defense efforts against "peaceful evolutions" through information control by the CPC's propaganda department and the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission (formerly known as the Central Leading Group for Cybersecurity and Informatization) under the Central Committee of the CPC; (2) the efforts of the CPC's Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDI) and Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC) to realize a society based on law and discipline.

2. Defense against "Peaceful Evolutions" through Information Control

The Xi Jinping administration's blatant stance on social control was demonstrated at home and to the world by the all-out control of ideology and speech that began shortly after its inauguration. In May 2013, the Xi Jinping administration issued under the name of the General Office of the Central Committee of the CPC a "Directive on the Current State of the Ideological Field." The document enumerated seven perils that could overthrow the CPC's power --- (1) "Western" constitutional democracy, (2) "universal values," (3) civil society, (4) neoliberalism, (5) Western-inspired notions of "media independence," (6) historical "nihilism", 1 and (7) doubts about the Reforms and Opening-up --- and called for the strengthening of ideological maneuvering to prevent these "wrong" trends from flowing into the country via the Internet and other media. 2 The Xi administration also extended ideological and speech control to the discourse space on the Internet --- the Chinese people's primary forum of communication. The Xi administration introduced the "Cybersecurity Law" (effective June 2017), the "Internet Comment Service Management Regulations" (effective in October 2017), the "Miniblog Information Service Management Regulations" (effective March 2018), and other series of laws and regulations regulating the dissemination and distribution of information via the Internet.

In addition to enacting relevant laws and regulations, the Xi Jinping administration also established a CPC-centered management system for Internet information. First, the Central Leading Group for Cybersecurity and Informatization was created under the Central Committee of the CPC, headed by Xi Jinping himself. This is a central department of the CPC that coordinates the opinions of related CPC and government departments and determines the policy line regarding cybersecurity and informatization. The Xi administration further upgraded the Central Leading Group for Cybersecurity and Informatization to the Cyberspace Affairs Commission based on the "Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Deepening the Reform of the Party and State Institutions" adopted in February 2018. It also transferred the administration of the National Computer Network and Information Security Management Center, previously undertaken by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the State Council, to the Office of the Cyberspace Affairs Commission. The Office of the Commission was headed by Zhuang Rongwen, deputy director of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee and an aide Xi has been close to since his days in Fujian province.

3. Realization of a Society Based on Law and Discipline

The Xi administration has entrusted the realization of a society based on law and discipline to the CDI and the PLAC. The former is a CPC organization to strengthen discipline within the CPC, while the latter is a CPC organization that oversees public security, prosecution, and judicial branches.

(1) Inspection(巡视) and Supervision (巡察) by the CDI Departments

Following its inauguration, the Xi Jinping administration strengthened the authority of the CDI at all administrative levels, and launched extensive anti-corruption campaigns from the central to local levels. In the implementation of anti-corruption campaigns, the "CPC Regulations on Inspection Work" were amended twice, in August 2015 and July 2017, and the "inspection and supervision" system was enlarged. "Inspection" is defined as follows: the CDI of central and provincial level CPC send inspection teams for a certain period of time to the organizations of the CPC, the State, and the military to thoroughly inspect their compliance with discipline and to uncover problems. "Supervision" is an inspection implemented by the CDI of city and county-level CPC on CPC, state, and military organizations under their jurisdiction.

Inspection and supervision extended to state-owned enterprises, universities, and the media. The Central Inspection Team conducted a discipline inspection on 31 universities under its jurisdiction 3 and publicized part of the results. For example, Peking University was accused of grave problems such as the improper appointment of personnel, the confused management of its subsidiary companies, and bribery and corruption perpetrated in its affiliated hospitals. As a result, Peking University decisively restructured its executive board in October 2018. Hao Ping, who had until then served as secretary of the university's party committee, was downgraded to principal. Qiu Shuiping, who had served as Vice Party Secretary-General of Beijing, Standing Vice Secretary of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission of Beijing, and Party Secretary of the Beijing Ministry of State Security, was newly appointed Party Secretary of Peking University. After the discipline inspection, each university had to obtain approval from the authorities for everything. The freedom the academic world had enjoyed to a certain extent disappeared.

(2) Governance of Residential Communities by the PLAC

Next, I would like to discuss the governance of "residential communities (社区)" promoted under the supervision of the PLAC. 4 A "residential community" is an urban residential unit established below township (乡), town (镇), and sub-district (街道) in the administrative ladder; it consists of approximately several thousand households. Traditionally, regarding the governance of residential communities, government departments of different levels were responsible for everyday administrative matters in their jurisdiction: the civil affairs department for resident autonomy by the residents' committee, the health and sanitary department for public health, the construction department for real estate management, and the public security department for public safety, to name just a few. In contrast, the Xi administration has been restructuring residential community governance by placing these government departments under the supervision of the PLAC.

By eliminating Zhou Yongkang's faction and appointing Xi's own followers to key posts, Xi Jinping reorganized the PLAC into an organization obedient to the Central Committee of the CPC and to the Xi administration 5 while extending the network of the PLAC down to the very ends of the administrative structure. The "Regulations on Political and Legal Work of the Communist Party of China" (effective January 2019) stipulate the establishment of PLAC organs in all local CPC committees at the county level and above; the assignment of PLAC members to all CPC organizations at township, town, and sub-district levels; and that the PLAC should supervise "comprehensive social security management centers (社会治安综合治理中心)" in the residential areas, thereby improving social governance. 6 Concurrently with the reorganization of the social governance system, the "Xue Liang Project (雪亮工程)" was implemented to create a public safety monitoring mechanism based on comprehensive social security management centers. The project involves the seamless installation of surveillance cameras in counties, townships/towns, villages/residential communities; AI surveillance cameras are networked across the country by the "Tian Wang Project (天网工程)." Social governance by the PLAC utilizes these information and communication technologies as a vital means of governance.

The COVID-19 pandemic attacked China, busy creating the above residential community governance system. Facing the pressing need to prevent the Corona epidemic, China was obliged to expedite the work. In February 2020, the Central PLAC issued a "Notice on the Furtherance of the Roles of Comprehensive Social Security Management Centers and Grid Members (網絡員) to Build the First Line of Defense for Epidemic Prevention and Control." The notice provides that a residential community should fall into smaller grids, and that necessary personnel should be assigned to each grid to establish a system to monitor, support, and manage residents' activities. In response to the notice, estate management company staff, resident leaders, and volunteers were assigned to each residential area as grid members. An epidemic prevention system was thus created, utilizing detailed data on residents that grid members built up through face-to-face contact or SNS; the "Xue Liang Project" networks of surveillance cameras; health codes. These efforts scored some success at least in preventing the spread of infection.

In April 2020, the Ping An China Construction Coordination Leading Group (平安中国建设协调领导小组), headed by Guo Shengkun (Secretary of the Central PLAC), was established under the Central PLAC; it is a policy coordination organization under the Central Committee of the CPC. To the Group, five specialized teams belonged: Public Safety Team, Social Security Team, Municipal Social Governance Team, Political Security Team, and Social Stability Maintenance Team. Each of them was presided over by leaders of the Central PLAC. Following the move of the Central Committee of the CPC, the local governments also established Ping An China construction coordination leading groups in their political and legal departments. Under this system, a framework of police-state governance is being forged across the country.

(3) Presence of the PLAC and the CDI in the Governance of Social Organizations

The CDI and the PLAC have enhanced their control over the management of not only residential communities but also transregional associations. In particular, the Act on the Management of Activities of Outside-the-Boundary NGOs Within the Boundary (enacted in January 2017) requires that "outside-the-boundary" NGOs 7 --- potential agents of "peaceful evolutions" by the "West" --- should register with the Ministry of Public Security. The Act bans activities of "outside-the-boundary" NGOs that may hinder national unity, security, and ethnic solidarity. Actually, a staff member of an advocacy group with ties to foreign countries was detained. 8

The Xi administration advocated the formation of orderly markets and, as part of relevant efforts, promoted the elimination of collusion between industrial and business associations and government agencies in terms of personnel appointments and finances --- an evil legacy of China's planned economy era. In this connection, the role of the CDI was emphasized. 9 In July 2015, the General Office of the CPC and the General Office of the State Council issued the "Comprehensive Plan Concerning the Separation of Industry Associations and Business Associations from Administrative Bodies" to propel the separation of industry associations from administrative agencies. In parallel, the Xi administration promoted the establishment of a party organization in industry associations. At about the same time that the Comprehensive Plan was issued, the CPC Central Organization Department promulgated the "Measures Concerning the Adjustment of the Management System for the Party's Construction Work after the Separation of the National Industry Associations and Business Associations from the Administrative Organs (Trial)." The Xi administration required that the separation of industry associations from the government should be followed by the establishment of a party organization in each industry association under the supervision of the Work Committee of the Central Committee of the CPC, the Work Committee for Central Government Organs, and the Party Committee of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council; that industry associations should be educated to faithfully follow the line of policy adopted by the CPC; that personnel selection should be made for various posts of each party organization and industry association --- chairman, vice chairman, and secretary general. Under this policy, it was specifically recommended that the secretary of each party organization be appointed as chairman and a member of the CDI as auditor, respectively, of the industry association in which the party organization is installed. In other words, the Xi administration seeks to intensify the CPC's involvement in the overall management of industry associations while promoting the complete separation of industry associations from the administrative bodies in terms of personnel appointment, finance, and functions.

(4) China's Social Governance and the Xinjiang and Hong Kong Issues

Lastly, I would like to touch on the relationship between China's social governance and the issues of Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Central Committee of the CPC is tasked to bring into the regime such social groups in which the CPC finds it hard to set up its organization, such as intellectuals, private entrepreneurs, overseas Chinese, ethnic minorities, and religious people. The Xi administration has strengthened the organization of the UFWD and increased its personnel. It has incorporated into the UFWD the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and the State Religious Affairs Bureau, both of which had previously supervised ethnic minorities and religious affairs, in order to create a framework that allows the CPC to directly supervise ethnic and religious matters. Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that in parallel with these developments, the unification of the UFWD and the PLAC has progressed in recent years.

For instance, the Central Xinjiang Work Coordination Group, established in 2000, was initially placed under the Central PLAC. 10 However, in November 2012, in the wake of the Zhou Yongkang incident, it was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Central UFWD. Nonetheless, the influence of the PLAC is still growing on the Central Xinjiang Work Coordination Group, as can be gathered from the fact that Shi Jun, who served as Head of the Sichuan Provincial Public Security Bureau, Secretary of the PLAC of the CPC Sichuan Provincial Committee, Deputy Secretary General of the Central PLAC, and Vice Minister of Public Security, was appointed in August 2018 as Vice Minister of the Central UFWD, currently serving also as Head of the Central Xinjiang Work Coordination Small Group.

Over Hong Kong, where the Hong Kong National Security Maintenance Act came into effect in June 2020, the influence of the PLAC is rapidly growing. Based on the law, the National Security Office was established in Hong Kong, to which some 300 personnel have been dispatched from the mainland's national security and public security departments. Thus, the presence of the PLAC is steadily expanding in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

4. Conclusion: Social Control by the CPC and the "Will of the People"

What do the Chinese people think about the Xi administration's social governance described above? There is no objective data available on this. But it seems to me that the majority of the Chinese public is accepting the Xi administration's social governance, whereas discontent is accumulating among liberal intellectuals, ethnic minorities, and the people of Hong Kong over the control of ideology and speech and the authoritarian rule of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. Most Chinese people raise their voices in protest on the Internet against irrationality and inequality and sometimes resort to mass protest movements. However, they do not seek the confusion that the collapse of the regime would invite. They know well that the governance of the United States and other "democracies" is not free from grave problems of disparity and discrimination, or of the shortcomings in crisis management exposed by the Corona Pandemic. Generally speaking, they are indifferent to the problems in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

To answer the "will of the people," the Xi Jinping administration is also adjusting its social governance system 11 by reflecting in politics the will of the people at the local and lower levels and enhancing accountability while strengthening social control. The Xi administration will continue fine adjustments to raise the resilience of the one-party rule. As long as the expectations of many citizens are met by the government's action, the present regime will last. It is hard to envisage a situation in which an anti-establishment movement will erupt. If the present regime became destabilized, it would not do so due to movements from below, but due to serious misgovernment that would risk the people's lives and safety and disrupt solidarity within the CPC leadership, or due to a rapid economic slowdown that would incapacitate the Communist government from covering the costs of social governance.

(Professor, Keio University)

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