Foreign Parties’ Experience in Their Governance Is Worth Learning from: Wang Jiarui

The article “Foreign Parties’ Experience in Their Governance Is Worth Learning from,” signed by Minister Wang Jiarui, appeared on the front page of the Study Times in Beijing on November 15, 2004. Its full text is reproduced below.

The Fourth Plenary Session of the Sixteenth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was a great event for our Party and state. The session focused on discussing how to strengthen the Party’s governance capacity, and made a major achievement by passing the Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Strengthening Its Governance Capacity. The session received many responses from foreign media, of which the most common was that, instead of ignoring foreign parties’ experience in their governance, the central collective leadership of the CPC attaches great importance to drawing upon it, which shows its political vision and wisdom. Ours is an open party. It sponsored in Beijing not long ago a session of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties, the first international conference it ever hosted. At the session, the political parties sat down together, exchanged experience in their governance and discussed the best way to promote regional development. We found that they all stress building their own governance capacity.

The practice of party politics around the world shows that ruling parties have points in common in their effort to strengthen their governance capacity. Although their governance models, natures, beliefs, platforms, governance ideas, and social bases vary greatly, they all still adhere to some common laws in improving their governance capacity. Particularly in the present situation characterized by rapidly developing globalization, informatization, marketization and democratization, some ruling parties have adapted themselves to the trend of the times, strengthened their self-improvement, and achieved remarkable results. Their practices and experience are definitely worth studying.

I. Principal Ways to Enhance Theoretical Innovativeness 

The theoretical platform of a political party is its guide for action as well as its banner to hold its members together, win popular support and integrate society as a whole. In face of drastically changing social realities, whether a ruling party grasps the features of the march of events and formulates a theoretical platform to meet the requirements of the times affects its future.

1. Revising the theoretical platform in light of the changing situation to cope with new social realities.

After assuming the leadership of the Labor Party in 1994, Tony Blair believed that a series of profound conflicts was just becoming evident in Britain’s public life, such as the government being increasingly unable to bear the heavy burden of the welfare state, low efficiency and severe waste, rampant individualism, and the lack of cohesion in society. To meet these challenges, Blair coined the slogan “New Labor, New Britain” and advocated the Third Way theory. This theory is different from both the old leftist view that the state should govern everything and the new rightist view that pays excessive attention to the market economy. It holds that the roles of the government, the market and the individual should be redefined and that a more open, equitable and prosperous society should be built through the joint efforts of all three. This new theory quickly invigorated the lethargic Labor Party and helped it win the general election after 18 years in opposition. The Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party evolved into the Hungarian Socialist Party following the drastic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. At a time when all areas of Hungarian society, including politics, economics and social thought, were drawing close to the West, the party advocated adapting its ideology and theory to the requirements of the times and the developing situation so as to avoid ideological ossification. Having sized up the situation, the party proposed building a new political system, a democratic country under the rule of law, a market economy based on mixed ownership and a humanitarian society in which incomes are rationally distributed. The party attached great importance to basing itself on Hungarian conditions and the principle of social democracy, carrying forward Hungarian national and leftist values and social objectives, and keeping its thinking up to date. Through repeated introspection, adjustment and innovation, the party improved its image, extended its influence, and won the 1994 and 2002 general elections.

The adjustment and updating of a party’s theoretical platform is usually accompanied by a change and updating of people’s thinking. This is a progressive process in which the party makes the best use of the circumstances and when the conditions are ripe, changes occur naturally. It is also a process of pooling the wisdom and efforts of the whole party and getting everyone involved in study, discussions and innovations. At present, when working out a new platform, some Western parties usually hold many debates, forums, and online discussions with the participation of all their members. A large scale discussion on a proposed platform of the German Social Democratic Party has been going on for years, and sometimes the party also invites nonparty dignitaries and foreign political figures to participate. The updating of the party’s platform naturally leads to the updating of the thinking of the whole party. The drastic changes in society in recent years have brought many Western political parties to the view that if a party does not want to be left behind, it must keep studying and become a party that constantly learns.

2. Against the background of accelerating social division and integration and increasing cultural diversification, some political parties have displayed greater flexibility and inclusiveness in updating their ideological and theoretical platforms.

In the West, rapid economic growth has brought about profound changes in social classes and strata and has led to the ceaseless division and integration of interest groups, the rapid rise of the middle class, and significant changes in class divisions and the social bases of political parties. For instance, Britain’s Labor Party and Conservative Party are large traditional leftist and rightist parties respectively. In the last general election, they combined to win about 70% of the votes, a reduction from the more than 90% in elections of the past. The same can be said of the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union in Germany. Faced with this situation, the Labor Party is seeking cooperation across class boundaries. Blair has repeatedly stated that he speaks not for the working class alone but for all the people. The German Social Democratic Party has made it clear that it would seek the cooperation of laborers, artisans, freelancers, scientists, technicians, entrepreneurs and all other social forces. As globalization accelerates and the mobility of people becomes increasingly rapid, modern society and culture are becoming ever more diversified. To meet the requirements of the pluralism of social thought and the diversity of political choices arising therefrom, many ruling parties learn from their opponents’ ideas, policies and development experience. Left-wing parties absorb the right wing’s libertarian economic proposals, and right-wing parties borrow the left-wing’s ideas on social fairness. Slogans that are conducive to the country’s political stability, social unity and harmony, and economic rejuvenation and development and ones that are inspiring and express the spirit of the times are often utilized by parties of all kinds. Consequently, the dividing lines between the policies of parties with different political orientations have become increasingly obscure, and the phenomenon where the left-wing parties are no longer leftist and the right-wing parties are no longer rightist has appeared in the political life of some countries.

II. Principal Ways to Improve Organizational and Mobilization Abilities 

The organizational structure of a political party is the material basis for its existence and development. The great trends of globalization and informatization have impact on the traditional ways of building political parties organizationally. To adapt themselves to the new situation, some foreign parties constantly explore new ways to build themselves into modern parties.

1. Expanding inner-party democracy to make the party more appealing and cohesive.

As the knowledge society has drawn closer to us in recent years, social life has become more individualized, and many members of the social elite have distanced themselves from political parties and political life. Socialist parties in Western Europe think that to get their membership structure to reflect the composition of society, it is necessary to absorb sufficient members of the social elite and other political resources that have drifted away from politics and to build more modern party organizations. To do this, it is necessary first to become more decentralized, that is, to further increase the power of lower-level organizations and make upper-level organizations more aware of their role of service. Second, it is necessary to become more democratic, and especially to strengthen direct democracy. For example, the German Social Democratic Party proposed that the party’s candidate for the chancellorship should be chosen by the whole party membership instead of by the party congress. Third, it is necessary to become more diversified by setting up branches focused on special issues, recruiting program-specific party members, and getting more party members to participate in inner-party discussions and decision making. Fourth, it is necessary to become more open by setting up more forums and platforms for dialogue to provide more and faster channels for the social elite to become involved in party work.

Ruling parties in socialist countries have also taken new steps to promote inner-party democracy. The Communist Party of Vietnam holds that further broadening inner-party democracy will help meet the increasing demands for democracy within the party and enter a new phase in the new situation. Since Nong Duc Manh took office as General Secretary, the plenary session of the Central Committee has introduced an inquiry system whereby a member of the Central Committee may address inquiries to all other members including the General Secretary and Members of the Politburo and Secretariat as well as to the Politburo, the Secretariat and the Central Inspection Commission.

2. Attracting and selecting high-caliber people to build a strong contingent of officials.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union used to practice the systems of leadership appointment and lifelong tenure for quite a long time, which severely hampered leadership transfers at all levels. Under these distorted systems, the rule by the individual (as distinct from rule by law) was commonplace in selecting officials in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. Due to the practice that leaders’ personal inclinations were the determining factor in decision making, many opportunists, bureaucrats and incompetents wormed their way into the ranks of officials at various levels. These people were responsible only to their superiors, not to their subordinates, and they curried favor with their superiors while ignoring the common people. This not only undermined the party’s organizational ability and leadership but also damaged its image, causing widespread dissatisfaction with the party and indifference to its cause and future among party members and the general public. As a result, when Mikhail Gorbachev declared the dissolution of the Communist Party in 1991, the party organizations at all levels and the 15 million party members could not mount an effective response. This is indeed thought provoking.

The People’s Action Party (PAP) of Singapore has formed a set of standardized working procedures for selecting officials, with the aim of enlisting the most outstanding young nonparty members into the party. Following each general election, the party chooses through various channels 200 to 300 people with a great potential from all walks of life around the country, and then selects qualified candidates from among them through procedures such as a written examination, preliminary investigation, interview, investigation by the Central Executive Committee, psychological test and the Central Executive Committee’s decision. This has helped the PAP widely enroll talented people, and form a contingent of outstanding party officials with high intellectual, ideological and moral standards, and laid a solid human resources foundation for its long-term governance.

Western parties have their own ways of doing these things. They believe that voting for party leaders is both an important exercise of party members’ democratic rights and an important way of enhancing their cohesion and selecting more qualified and authoritative leaders. In recent years, they have made greater efforts to promote direct inner-party elections. In 1997, the Socialist Party of France changed the way of choosing its First Secretary from election by its Executive Committee to direct election by its entire membership.

III. Principal Ways to Develop Decision-Making Ability 

Whether or not a ruling party’s decision is scientific and enjoys wide support has a direct bearing on how successful it is. Therefore, enhancing decision-making ability is an important part of efforts to improve governance capacity.

1. Improving the party’s policy research by making good use of outside talent.

Ruling parties usually have special bodies for policy research, which are responsible for drafting decisions for their leaders and organizations. Thailand’s Thai Rak Thai Party has two advisory committees, one each under the party’s Chairman and Central Executive Committee. These two committees enlist as many members of the social elite as possible into finance, industry, commerce, agriculture and other subcommittees according to their expertise, and organize regular inspection tours and meetings for them. They provide advice and assistance to the party leadership in formulating general policies and help the party form a series of general policies. The party also has a system of honorary membership for outstanding professionals, and its constitution grants them the right to make suggestions on the party’s policies directly to the party’s Chairman. Many Western parties also seek advice and assistance from think tanks, consulting firms, research institutes and special committees outside the party when making decisions. They think that because policy research bodies outside the party operate independently, they are less likely to be swayed by partisan interests. What is more, they have long and rich research experience and most of their members are experts in certain fields, so it is easy for them to make objective, professional policy suggestions. The United States Republican Party attaches great importance to the policy suggestions made by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, which are sometimes called the party’s shadow cabinet.

2. Enhancing democratic participation in decision-making to make decisions more authoritative and more acceptable to party members.

The Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement of Greece pointed out that it should not rely solely on its leaders or experts to formulate policies but that it also needs to encourage all its members to get involved in the process. Before instituting a policy, the New Zealand Labor Party discusses it extensively first and then recommends it to its policy conference. Following its defeats in the presidential and legislative elections in 2002, the Socialist Party of France organized about 5,000 inner-party forums and discussions of various kinds and mobilized its leaders at all levels and other members to reflect on the causes for the defeats. On the basis of open, wide-ranging discussions, the party made five proposals for its future policies, submitted them to its entire membership for a vote before the opening of its congress in May this year, and eventually reached a consensus on them. Ruling parties in socialist countries are putting more effort into democratic decision making. Five months before the Communist Party of Cuba held its Fifth National Congress in October 1997, it published a draft political document for discussion inside and outside the party with the participation of 6.5 million people aged 14 and older across the country. Before its Ninth National Congress in 2001, the Communist Party of Vietnam published a draft political document in the media for comments from inside and outside the party. During this process, critics pointed out that the party-building section of the draft was incomplete and that major issues were not clearly elaborated, such as the party’s leadership style, its organizational structure, its relationships with government departments, people’s organizations and the Motherland Front, the relationship between party organizations and the bodies in which they are embedded, the content and forms of the activities of leading party members groups, how to define exploitation, and whether party members can engage in business. The party set great store by these comments, and made changes and additions to the draft based on them.

IV. Principal Ways to Become Better Able to Develop Society and the Economy 

The ability to balance economic and social development is one of the key criteria for measuring a ruling party’s governance capacity. As economic globalization progresses swiftly, all countries, particularly developing countries, have to face the problem of economic security. Constantly improving their ability to steer and manage balanced social and economic development is an important part of the efforts of ruling parties to build their governance capacity.

1. Seeking a suitable development model and instituting clear strategies to promote economic growth on the basis of the internal and external economic environment and level of domestic development.

When it was just founded, Singapore, with a small population and tiny territory, was a poor country. Accordingly, the PAP set forth the basic state policy of putting survival first and rejuvenating the country through economic development and resolved to create a new type of economic model. Over the past 40 years, the PAP-led government has been shifting its economic development strategies in light of the changes in the domestic and international economic environment. In the 1960s, the party, faced with severe unemployment and poverty, introduced the labor-intensive industrial policy focused on creating more jobs. In the 1970s, when the country had full employment, the party instituted the export-oriented capital-intensive industrial policy. In the 1980s, in the already industrialized country, it introduced the technology-intensive industrial policy focused on improving international competitiveness. In the 1990s, it concentrated on developing new and high-tech industries, such as electronics and communications. At the beginning of the new century, the party stated that in order to compete in the global market, it must pursue life-long learning and upgrade its skills to get on the fast track of the knowledge economy. Due to the fact that the PAP formulates suitable development models in light of changing national conditions, it succeeded in taking the Singaporean economy one step forward after another, thus further securing its position as the dominant party of the country.

The Swedish Social Democratic Labor Party (SAP) has been accumulatively in power for more than 70 years. It has constantly adhered to the position that developing the economy is of vital importance for winning popular support. After assuming office in 1932, the party advocated a model of mixed economy and practiced the welfare state system. As a result, the economy maintained sustained growth for more than 40 years, giving birth to the Swedish model that attracted the world’s attention and laying a solid foundation for the party’s long-term governance. In light of the rapid development in scientific and technological revolution, new economy and globalization in recent years, the SAP feels that the future of the Swedish economy lies in developing the knowledge economy. It therefore takes greater economic achievements as the key to governance and has promptly adjusted its economic policies. For example, it has reduced government interference by an appropriate degree so that the market can play a bigger role and invested more in science and technology for the development of new and high technologies. These measures have injected new vitality into the Swedish economy. For instance, they have helped Ericsson to gain nearly 40% of the global market for mobile communications. By properly adjusting its economic policies, the SAP remains firmly in power although the political winds in Europe have shifted to the right. In 2002, the party won its third successive general election, and it is the longest governing social democratic party in the world.

2. Formulating and improving social policies to balance interests.

A political party represents the interests of certain classes, social strata and groups, but when it becomes a ruling party, it must consider how to maintain its country’s macroeconomic stability and development. After acquiring legal standing in February 1990, the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa published the Discussion Document on Economic Policy in September of the same year, which stressed the transformation of the country’s economy through redistribution and government interference. In the 1994 general election, it put forward a campaign platform, the Reconstruction and Development Program, which gave priority to social reconstruction, poverty alleviation and economic growth so as to win the support of black voters. After assuming power, however, on the basis of a strategic consideration of South African realities, the ANC launched the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy to give first priority to economic growth, which it viewed as a prerequisite for solving social problems. It stressed that large “cakes” had to be made before talking about fair distribution and narrowing wealth gaps. This strategy created favorable conditions for the South African economy to get onto a sound development track.

V. Principal Ways to Become Better Able to Respond to Sudden Crises 

During the present period of great changes and instabilities in the ever more complex and volatile international situation, social thoughts and conflicts in all countries have become increasingly complicated, and domestic and international emergencies of various kinds have occurred repeatedly, therefore, events have become highly unpredictable. A responsible ruling party must establish and strengthen a mechanism for preventing and handling crises, and strive to become better able to control complex situations, respond to emergencies and defuse major crises.

Ruling parties of Western countries and their governments put great emphasis on crisis management and have formed relatively mature crisis management systems through long periods of practice. First, they have special agencies for crisis response. After the September 11 incident, the United States set up the Department of Homeland Security, which reports directly to the President. Japan also established a crisis management center at the Prime Minister’s residence. Second, a rudimentary legal system for managing crises has taken shape. For instance, the United States has enacted the National Security Act, the National Emergencies Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act, and Japan has enacted the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act and the Foreign Armed Attack Contingency Law. Third, Western governments have worked out all kinds of crisis response plans. The United States mapped out a 300-plus-page federal emergency response plan, which clearly stipulates major responsibilities of the 27 federal departments and bodies as well as state and local governments for dealing with various kinds of disasters. The United States Government responded rapidly to the September 11 incident on the basis of this plan. In addition, Western countries place particular emphasis on intelligence agencies collecting and passing on information, pay attention to seeking foreign assistance and cooperation, especially from international organizations, and inform the public about crisis conditions in order to give the people a sense of security.

Ruling parties in developing and socialist countries are still in the initial stage of exploration of crisis response. Those in developing countries are increasingly paying attention to creating crisis response mechanisms. For example, India has formed a crisis management team. Ruling parties in socialist countries are also strengthening their emergency response mechanisms. Cuba’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Police Department, joined by the Committee for Guarding the Revolution and other mass organizations, have formed a unified monitoring system and a rapid response team in order to prevent and respond to emergencies.

VI. Principal Ways to Become Better Able to Engage in External Contacts 

During this era of globalization, political parties are going beyond their borders and playing an active part on the world stage. Through extensive, in-depth exchanges, they learn from other parties’ successful experience in running their countries, and become better able to act strategically. At the same time, proactive contacts with other parties also help them publicize their policies and positions and create a good international image.

1. Publicize one’s values and political positions, increase one’s international influence, and constantly become better able to act strategically through contacts with other political parties

Since it was reestablished in 1951, the Socialist International has constantly expanded from a European whites' club to a mini United Nations. With 168 members, it is the world’s largest international organization of political parties and has increased the influence of social democracy in many countries. Its support was instrumental in the founding of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, the Portuguese Socialist Party and some center-left parties in Latin America. Through their activities in the Socialist International, the German Social Democratic Party and the French Socialist Party have expanded their influence in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa and the world at large. The German Social Democratic Party, the French Socialist Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party all have political foundations, which they use to fund international academic symposiums, personnel exchanges and policy discussions. Because socialist parties attach great importance to getting real results from dialogue and stress fair, flexible discussions and exchanges, their analyses of North-South relations, sustainable development and globalized governance are more profound, comprehensive and future-oriented than those of other political parties.

2. Enhance exchanges and discussions on running one’s country through convenient, flexible party-to-party contacts.

Political parties are free from governmental commitments in their contacts with each other and enjoy greater flexibility than government contacts. They can therefore engage in deeper and more extensive exchanges and discussions. For example, at the first sessions of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties, some party leaders stated that Asian political culture is unique and that copying Western political systems and political party systems is not suitable to Asian realities and may not help solve Asian problems. Asian political parties should not engage in vicious competition for the sake of seizing power. All Asian countries must, in light of national and Asian realities, concentrate on their people’s urgent needs, commit themselves to economic growth, poverty alleviation and assistance to disadvantaged groups in society, and create a political culture and a model of party politics with their own characteristics.

The above account of the practices of ruling parties shows that building governance capacity involves many tasks and is a long-term, comprehensive, and systematic process. The CPC made a decision on developing its governance capacity at the Fourth Plenary Session of its Sixteenth Central Committee. This shows that during the new historical period, our Party’s governance capacity has entered a new stage and reached a new level. We must therefore plan it scientifically from a strategic perspective and give it a systematic theoretical elaboration. The decision not only scientifically propounds the meaning of governance capacity but also proposes strengthening its five aspects systematically, comprehensively and in detail. It covers economy, politics, culture, society, foreign affairs, state sovereignty, national security and other areas, and it is unparalleled in the history of the communist party or other parties in the whole world. We believe that with the encouragement of this plenary session and the great emphasis of the Party Central Committee, we can surely begin a new phase in our great party-building program in the new century from a new historical height, in light of our national and Party conditions, and on the basis of the experience of ruling parties of all kinds around the world.