Zhou Xiaohui: What the Fourth Plenum of the CCP Central Committee Tells Us

November 9, 2019 Updated: November 11, 2019

News Commentary

The four-day fourth plenary session of the 19th central committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has ended. 

On Oct. 31, a communique was released. To be sure, the communique did not accurately reflect what was discussed at the meeting. There was little discussion about material discussions or topics which always garner public interest. In short, the communique was just another piece of red tape and a litany of lies. 

But even so, there were a few hints.

The U.S.-China trade war and the CCP’s strategy in dealing with it were not mentioned in the communique at all. 

The only close topic of mention was in relation to foreign policy, the communique said that China should “keep in mind both domestic and international interests, hold high the banner of peace, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit, and unswervingly safeguard the nation’s sovereignty, security and development interests.”

Undoubtedly the most important international issue facing senior leadership of the CCP today is U.S.-China relations, especially the ongoing trade talks. 

If the U.S.-China trade war wasn’t discussed at the meeting, a gathering of hundreds of senior officials that normally discusses major issues, then the most plausible explanation is that the CCP’s top brass banned the topic, out of fear that someone might use it to undermine the authority or leadership of Xi.

Another possibility is that the topic was discussed but wasn’t summarized in the communique due to internal strife and lack of consensus. If that’s the case, then it remains to be seen whether CCP officials would be able to sign a first-phase deal with the United States.

Shortly after the new round of trade talks, the CCP reneged on purchases of American agricultural products again and again. It asked the United States to roll back tariffs first, and then blasted Vice President Mike Pence’s speech. 

All of this makes it hard for the U.S.-China trade negotiations to reach a viable agreement.

The Hong Kong Issue

The communique did respond to another major public concern. Namely, how to deal with the ongoing “Hong Kong protest.” 

Although the communique stated that “one country, two systems” would be upheld and improved, it said that “the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions must be governed in strict accordance with the constitution and the Basic Law,” and that “the legal system and enforcement mechanism of the special administrative regions should be established and improved to safeguard national security.” 

It shows that the CCP hasn’t changed its attitude of governing Hong Kong on a fundamental level. Its intention is not to truly adhere to a “one country, two systems” governance.

The relationship between the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law is interesting. Cheng Xiang, a veteran Hong Kong media professional who has observed the China-UK handover negotiation and witnessed the formulation of the Basic Law, once pointed out that when the Basic Law was introduced, it was intended to exclude China’s constitution. There was a “constitutional exclusion provision.”

He said Hongkongers were concerned that the CCP would use mainland China’s political and legal system in Hong Kong, so articles 5, 11, 18 and Annex 3 of the Basic Law were designed to effectively separate the two political and legal systems. 

In other words, except for some important provisions applicable to Hong Kong (such as article 31 of the Chinese constitution), most provisions of the Chinese constitution do not apply in Hong Kong. Moreover, the legal experts who participated in the drafting of the Basic Law also indicated that these “constitutional exclusion provisions” did not violate the Chinese constitution. 

This means that the original intention of the Basic Law legislation at that time was to make the constitution irrelevant to the Basic Law.

Cheng also said the Basic Law was enacted to “the Hong Kong special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China,” which means that Hong Kongers do not need to support socialism and the CCP, while Article 1 of the constitution states that socialism is practiced in China. 

Moreover, former CCP leader Deng Xiaoping made it clear in his meetings with people from Hong Kong and Macao that “you are not required to love socialism and support the Communist Party. As long as you support the return of Hong Kong to China, you are patriotic.”

The Fourth Plenum juxtaposed the constitution and the Basic Law to regulate Hong Kong, and intended to build a “mechanism to maintain national security law system and execution” such as the Fugitive Ordinance within Hong Kong. Although the CCP regime may take a softer stance considering potential U.S. sanctions, it will bide its time to take revenge sooner or later.

CCP’s Grip on Power

The communique continued to take irrelevant “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thought, Deng Xiaoping’s theory, Jiang Zemin’s “three representatives”, Scientific Outlook on Development, Xi Jinping thought as the guiding ideology.

While beautifying the history and achievements of the CCP, it highlighted the so-called advantages of the CCP’s state institutions and governance system, with slogans such as “single-party system,” “the Party commands the gun” and so on. This signals that the CCP will continue to follow a “dead end” approach and stick to the so-called path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

To put it bluntly, maintaining the single-party dictatorship of the CCP and never giving Chinese people freedom and democracy underscores the CCP’s deep fear of losing power.

Once western-style democratic elections are adopted in China, the CCP and its leaders will no doubt be abandoned. Once this happens, who would protect the vested interest groups of the CCP and its leaders?

Therefore, it is not that the Chinese people are unfit for democracy, but that the self-interested clique of the CCP is afraid of democracy’s arrival and the consequences of granting such freedoms. Hence it would by no means consider a pivot to western democracy. The fourth plenum communique reinforced this point.

Grand Delusions of Future State

The communique continued to dream that by the centenary of the CCP’s founding, “remarkable results will be achieved in making every system more mature and finalized.” 

By 2035, the country’s governance system and capacity will be basically modernized. By the centenary of the PRC’s founding, the CCP will “comprehensively modernize the country’s governance system and capacity, consolidate the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, and fully demonstrate its superiority.”

How can the CCP get to its 100th anniversary? How long can Chinese people endure a regime that has long lost popular support, a regime whose purpose is to harm people and serve itself? How much longer can the world endure?

From the noise before the Fourth Plenum, the awful atmosphere during the session, to the information hinted from the communique, an obvious conclusion is that the CCP is still unable to cope with the trade war, unable to cope with foreign pressures. Yet even so, it still decided to insist on its dead-end path.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Zhou Xiaohui
Zhou Xiaohui is a former college professor. He has been contributing commentaries to The Epoch Times on Chinese politics, history, and culture since 2009.