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  • Assessing the Fourth Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party:Personnel Management and Corruption
  • Kjeld Erik Brødsgaard (bio)

The annual plenary sessions of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) usually follow a fixed pattern. The first plenary session of a newly elected Central Committee appoints the new party leadership, including the new general secretary of the CCP. The second plenary session, held in the spring before the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), reviews and approves the composition of the new government. The third plenary session addresses basic issues and the party’s policy directions on economic development and reform. The fourth plenary session usually includes party building at the top of the agenda, while the fifth plenary session deliberates on a draft of the upcoming five-year plan that is formally adopted at the annual meeting of the NPC. The sixth plenary session often focuses on cultural themes and broad societal goals such as creating a “harmonious society” or adhering to the concept of “scientific development.” The seventh plenary session, held a few weeks before the opening of the next National Party Congress, approves the agenda of the event as well as the various reports to be presented to the party congress.

Although the fourth plenary session usually discusses party building, law and legal work were the main topics at this meeting in 2014. The result was a major document entitled “Decision of the CCP Central Committee Concerning Some Major Questions in Comprehensively Moving Governing the Country Forward According to the Law” (henceforth referred to as the Decision).1 This document should be regarded as an extension into the legal area of the ambitious reform proposals adopted at the third plenary [End Page 30] session in November 2013.2 According to some scholars and observers, these proposals are perhaps indicative of the most far-reaching reform initiative since the landmark Third Plenum in December 1978 that inaugurated the post-Mao reform process.3

This essay will first discuss the nature and importance of party documents in China. Second, it analyzes the impact of the Fourth Plenum Decision on personnel management in the legal system, arguing that a recentralization of power and authority is taking place. Third, the essay briefly examines the ongoing anticorruption campaign. Finally, it concludes by arguing that recent legal reforms do not intend to reduce the party’s power and instruments of control. On the contrary, the leading role of the CCP is regarded by the Chinese leadership as a necessary precondition for legal reform.

Drafting the Decision

Drafting major Chinese policy documents is a protracted and complicated process that involves numerous individuals and institutions. According to Xi Jinping’s own lengthy explanation of the process, work on the Decision began in January 2014.4 At a Politburo meeting it was decided that the upcoming fourth plenary session of the Central Committee should focus on legal affairs. Following the Politburo meeting, a drafting group was formed with Xi as head and NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang and Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) chairman Wang Qishan as deputy heads. In addition, approximately 70 leading officials from relevant central and provincial departments participated. The drafting group held its first meeting in February 2014, and over the next eight months the full Politburo held two meetings and the Politburo Standing Committee met three times to discuss the work of the drafting group. In his explanation of the process, Xi underlined that the drafting group had consulted retired [End Page 31] party leaders as well.5 Xi was also the head of the group that developed the reform document for the Third Plenum in November 2013. This indicates his crucial role not only in setting out overall policy guidelines but also in actual policymaking and drafting key documents.

There is a hierarchy among Chinese documents. The most important are signed and circulated by party organizations. Recent regulations for selecting and appointing leading cadres, for example, are circulated by the Central Organization Department of the CCP. Even though such regulations are not discussed and passed by the NPC, they are not less important than state laws. Often laws are first circulated as trial or provisional (zanxing...


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