China Politics

China ends key leadership meeting by highlighting a new requirement: 'Learn, learn, learn'

Key Points
  • At the highest level, Chinese leaders don't appear eager to make major economic reforms right now to what has long been criticized as a state-dominated economy.
  • Instead, the ruling party is urging officials to "learn" and "modernize."
  • "High-quality officials" are "good at learning," said Jiang Jinquan, deputy director in charge of routine work of the Policy Research Office of the CPC Central Committee.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) attends a military parade with former presidents Hu Jintao (L) and Jiang Zemin in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PeopleÕs Republic of China.
Greg Baker | AFP | Getty Images

BEIJING — At the highest level, Chinese leaders don't appear eager to make major economic reforms right now to what has long been criticized as a state-dominated economy. Instead, the ruling party is urging officials to "learn" and "modernize."

After this week's closed-door meetings of the top leadership at the Communist Party of China (CPC), authorities on Friday emphasized the need for government officials to learn more about what the ruling party stands for under President Xi Jinping — what's promoted as socialism with Chinese characteristics.

In many ways, that conservatism contrasts with recent announcements Beijing has made about opening its once tightly closed market further to foreign businesses.

"High-quality officials" are "good at learning," said Jiang Jinquan, deputy director in charge of routine work of the Policy Research Office of the CPC's Central Committee. He noted that a challenging global environment requires China to speed up efforts to "modernize."

"Some officials lack (the) ability to adapt and learn," Jiang said, according to an official translation of his Mandarin-language remarks. "We ask them to learn, learn, learn. That is a new requirement for them."

Jiang was speaking to reporters alongside six other government officials at the conclusion of the "Fourth Plenum of the 19th Party Congress." The meeting, which takes place roughly once-a-year, gathers China's highest political circle to discuss policy.

This particular gathering was expected to focus on party governance.

Modernization vs liberalization

The plenum communique stressed that the ruling party "does not interpret 'modernisation' to represent political liberalisation," Tom Rafferty, principal economist for China at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said in an email. 

"Mr Xi's goal is the preservation of (Communist Party of China) rule through reinforcing the primacy of the ruling party," Rafferty said. "He also aims to implement reforms designed to make it a more effective, disciplined and motivated governing force."

The gathering, which ran from Monday to Thursday this week, was the first such meeting since Xi abolished term limits more than a year ago — in March 2018.

Journalists walk towards a statue of late communist leader Mao Zedong at the Party School of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, during a government-organised tour for foreign journalists in Beijing on June 26, 2019.
Leo Ramirez | AFP | Getty Images

Since then, the government has launched a smartphone app for learning about what it refers to as "Xi thought," — also known as "Xuexiqiangguo" in Chinese. In late August, journalists from state media reportedly received a notice that they would need to pass a test centered on Xi thought in order to receive their press cards.

Every five years, high-ranking government officials from provinces and municipalities must also spend three months at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee in Beijing. There, they learn basic theories and cultivate a party spirit, representatives from the school said during a visit by foreign media in June.

Official materials from the school said the government has more than 2,900 institutions nationwide for Communist Party education.

Education for Hong Kong's youth

Instruction is also part of the leaders' efforts to address unrest in Hong Kong.

At the most recent plenum, leaders discussed the "need to enhance education" for those working in the public sector and young people in Hong Kong and Macao, said Shen Chunyao, who heads the law committees for Hong Kong and Macau.

"(We must) foster a stronger sense of national identity and patriotism," Shen said during Friday's press conference, according to an official translation of his Mandarin-language remarks. He also said the meeting stressed the need to strengthen Hong Kong's legal enforcement mechanism in order to ensure security in the territory.

Rather than providing fresh direction, the plenum provided more ideological coherence to changes that have already taken place.
Tom Rafferty
The Economist Intelligence Unit

Officials on Friday reiterated comments about speeding up efforts to allow more foreign control in industries such as finance, telecommunications, medical services and culture. They also emphasized further development of a legal framework.

However, the comments were light on major changes to state-owned companies, and noted most of such businesses work in key areas like state security and the national economy.

"Rather than providing fresh direction, the plenum provided more ideological coherence to changes that have already taken place," Rafferty said.

"It was silent on emerging governance approaches, such as the controversial social credit system and use of artificial intelligence. However, more details will emerge when the full plenum 'decision' is published, which typically occurs a few days after the communique," he added.

For now, the emphasis is clearly on learning about the governing party. Printed on red banners in Beijing and sprinkled throughout speeches in China, the slogan in Chinese roughly reads: "Don't forget your initial spirit, firmly remember the mission."