China’s Communist Party unveiled a broad overhaul strengthening its role in managing finance, social affairs and technological development, as part of leader Xi Jinping’s efforts to entrench his brand of top-down rule.
A lengthy directive published by state media on Thursday evening outlined the creation of new party agencies and the restructuring of some existing bodies—changes that reinforced the party’s dominance over the government bureaucracy in policy-making. The directive said the shake-up is aimed at improving the party’s ability to govern and exercise “centralized and unified leadership.”
This includes the establishment of two new party bodies to manage China’s financial system, according to the directive. The party will also create new agencies in charge of steering China’s push for technological supremacy, engaging civic groups and the general public, and administering the territories of Hong Kong and Macau.
The restructuring plans indicate that Mr. Xi remains wedded to his core vision of strong, centralized leadership under the Communist Party, despite backlash against his domineering and autocratic style—including mass protests in November against his strict Covid controls. Mr. Xi, for his part, has often blamed bureaucratic foot-dragging among lower-level officials for hampering his agenda.
Senior party officials approved the overall restructuring plan in late February. Parts of the plan pertaining to the reorganization of state agencies were unveiled last week during China’s annual legislative session, where lawmakers rubber-stamped those changes.
The changes, the directive said, were necessary for updating China’s governance institutions that weren’t fully suited to the needs of modernizing the country and delivering a national renaissance. The party aims to complete central-level changes by the end of the year and wrap up local-level restructuring by the end of 2024.
According to Thursday’s directive, the party will create a new Central Financial Commission, which would absorb an existing government council and assume responsibility for setting major policies related to China’s financial system. To oversee party-related affairs in the financial sector, the party will also resurrect the Central Financial Work Commission, a body that was first created after the Asian financial crisis and which existed between 1998 and 2003. The Wall Street Journal reported last month the plan to revive this commission.
Thursday’s directive also called for a new Central Social Work Department, which would oversee party interactions with civic groups, chambers of commerce and industry groups, as well as the handling of public petitions and grievances. Its establishment comes at a time when business confidence has been damaged by Mr. Xi’s Covid-19 policies and regulatory crackdown on the private sector in recent years and would help convey the party’s agenda and ensure tighter control over all aspects of Chinese society.
A new Central Technology Commission will assume responsibilities for shepherding China’s efforts to develop new capabilities and know-how in strategic sectors. The Chinese government’s existing Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office will be folded into a new party agency, known as the Central Hong Kong and Macau Work Office, which will be charged with implementing Beijing’s plans for tightening control over the two former colonies and integrating them with the mainland.
The latest restructuring continues China’s shift away from paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s efforts, started more than four decades ago, to delineate clearer divisions of responsibilities between the party and the government, as a way to professionalize a civil service devastated by Mao Zedong’s radical campaigns, and to facilitate better governance.
Under that approach, the party had often maintained the semblance of operating in parallel with state institutions and delegated a degree of authority to government agencies in designing and implementing policies. Mr. Xi has reversed this trajectory by emphasizing the party’s leadership over all aspects of governance.
The latest overhauls build upon an earlier shake-up of party and state agencies in 2018, at the time China’s most comprehensive restructuring in more than a decade. Those changes, which had also been directed by Mr. Xi, put the party more squarely in charge of policy-making across the financial, economic and diplomatic realms. Some elements of the 2018 shake-up took a long time to implement and certain changes hadn’t been fully completed as of early 2023, the Journal previously reported.
Mr. Xi hammered home his political supremacy last week, completing a monthslong transition into his third term as head of the party, the military and the state when China’s legislature formally appointed him to the largely ceremonial presidency for another five years.
The Chinese leader also completed the lineup for his third-term administration during the annual legislative session in Beijing, which concluded Monday. Mr. Xi personally led the screening process for senior appointments, during which he and his lieutenants spoke to more than 300 people to garner views on candidates, according to an account published by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Close associates of Mr. Xi took up heavyweight posts in the new government. Among them, Li Qiang, the No. 2 in the party hierarchy, took office as China’s new premier, while a senior Xi aide, Ding Xuexiang, was named the first-ranked vice premier.