What did the Politburo learn in 2020?
A comprehensive review of Xi's priorities from the monthly group studies: IPR, Quantum Science, Archaeology, Defense, Organizational Line and Civil Code
(This is a comprehensive review of what the Politburo studied as a group in 2020, so it’s going to be exceedingly lengthy - mere 1,000 words can’t possibly cover the Chinese power center’s year-long curriculum, can they? Here it begins.)
Unique among major political parties internationally, the highest echelons of power at the Communist Party of China gathered once (almost) every month to study a particular subject.
A Politburo group-study session invites an expert, usually a professor from a renowned university or think-tank, as a guest lecturer, and features a speech by General Secretary Xi Jinping, signaling the interest of China’s governing elites.
The curriculum ranges from seemingly mundane archaeology to disruptive technologies such as quantum. The highlight of such sessions is what Xi says at the scene, pointing to China's preferred future course of action in this aspect.
Taking place towards the end of the month, always on afternoons, the Politburo held six group study sessions by the end of November. In 2019, the Politburo did NOT hold such a session in December, when typically there are a lot of key meetings taking place, such as the Central Economic Work Meeting.
In addition to the four beginning months when the coronavirus pandemic demanded less gathering, August is the only missing month. The usually hottest month in Beijing coincides with leaders, reportedly, taking a vacation in the northern, seaside resort of Beidaihe.
For each session, state media disseminate a readout featuring major points of Xi’s speech. Sometimes, Qiushi, meaning Seek Truth, the CPC’s flagship magazine, publishes Xi’s full remarks.
Here are some highlights from these sessions aimed at keeping you patient enough to go till the end:
In November, Xi elevates intellectual property protection to a national strategic height, where he calls for promoting the extraterritorial application of China's laws on IPR.
In September, Xi urges further archaeology to boost the confidence and pride of the Chinese. And there is a hugely practical tip for any real estate developer, entrepreneur and investor who want to acquire land in China.
In July, Xi, for the first time, adds 智能化 intelligentization into the guidelines of the People’s Liberation Army, expanding from mechanization and informatization. Xi also mentions the 14th 5-year-plan for the PLA (2021-2025).
On May 29, the Politburo held its first group study session in 2020 - signaling full confidence in China’s control of the coronavirus pandemic.
Below is a comprehensive review of the six study sessions so far this year. Information with potentially bigger implications have been chosen, with notes added. All highlights are from Pekingnology.
November 31st Intellectual Property Protection
Teacher: Yi Jiming of Peking University
This is the session that, supposedly, that the West should be happy to see. For years, China’s record on IPR is deemed poor, but Xi made it clear IPR needs to be elevated to a national strategic height.
Xi’s reasoning: innovation is the primary driving force behind development, and protecting IPR is equal to protecting innovation.
Xi's assessment of the status quo: China is changing from a powerhouse of importing IPR to a powerhouse of creating IPR, and from pursuing quantity to improving quality. China has made historic achievements in IPR protection, and the awareness of the entire society to respect and protect IPR has significantly improved.
China’s course of action, from Xi:
create a national plan for IPR protection and application for the 14th Five-Year Plan period from 2021 to 2025;
amend the laws on patents, trademarks, anti-trust, copyright and science & technology progress (each is a standalone law already, and heavy workload ahead for the national legislature);
improve legislation in geographical indications and commercial secrets;
promote the unification of IP administrative enforcement standards and judicial adjudication standards
crackdown on major infringement cases
Implement differentiated IPR policies between regions and industries;
improve IPR protection mechanisms in big data, artificial intelligence, and gene technology;
promptly implementing the system of awarding compensation of punitive damages;
formulate regulations to prevent IPR abuse;
Participate in the global governance of IPR within the framework of WIPO, shaping the governance to a more fair and just fashion
safeguard national security in IPR, strengthen the independent research, development, and protection of core technologies related to national security, and manage the transfers of IPR related to national security in accordance with the law;
improve the laws, regulations, and policies on intellectual property anti-monopoly and fair competition, to form a legitimate and effective means of counterbalance;
promote the extraterritorial application of China's laws on IPR.
1) if you have a case alleging infringement of IPR in China, try to work it into the category of major/signature cases 大案要案 in your place of business - there will be one such category in local law enforcement, and there will be swift justice.
2) Unification means similar cases in different regions will lead to a similar amount of money in judgment, which has not always been the case by now.
3) the safeguard of IPR in NatSec, such as in the supervision of key tech exports, can be best illustrated in the recent case of Tiktok, where the Commerce Ministry intervened.
4) Anti-trust/Competition is clearly defined within the framework of IPR in China, and Xi mentions that IPR measures could be a legitimate and effective means of counterbalance. While details are not mentioned, but there are indeed major international mergers unapproved in Beijing right now.
5）promote the extraterritorial application of China's laws on IPR is also noteworthy, though details are unclear yet.
October 16th, Quantum Sciences and Technologies
Teacher: Xue Qikun of Tsinghua University
Xi’s assessment: quantum science and technology have developed by leaps and bounds in recent years and become the frontier field in a new round of sci-tech and industrial revolutions, playing a very important role in safeguarding national security, of great scientific significance and strategic value, a major disruptive technological innovation that impacts and restructures the traditional technological system. China has made a number of significant innovations with international influence.
China’s course of action, from Xi:
firmly take the road of independent innovation, break through key core technologies, strive to achieve autonomy and self-control in key areas, ensure the security of the industry chain and supply chain, and enhance the ability to deal with international risks and challenges;
Comprehensive policy supports, ensure investment;
speeding up breakthroughs in basic research and task tackling of core technologies, accelerate the implementation of major projects;
Cultivate high-level talent, establish a responsibility system for top scientists based on trust, offer them more autonomy in personnel, finance, and property as well as decision-making right
Involve industries(not just the academia), improve the speed and efficiency of transforming quantum theoretical research into practical and engineering applications
1) Quantum technologies must NOT become the next semiconductor/computing chips sector where China is being held at the neck.
2) Expect a lot of state and non-state funding into quantum.
3) Xi did not specify which are major projects in quantum, but, perhaps coincidentally, Chinese scientists just announced achieving quantum supremacy after Google on Thursday Dec. 3.
Sept. 28th Archaeology
Expert: Chen Xingcan with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Yes, you read it right - archaeology. And in this particular session, Qiushi published Xi’s full remarks, enabling a more in-depth - and consequently longer - analysis. In other sessions, what’s available is just a shorter read-out of those sessions.
What I call Chinese exceptionalism in history through Xi’s words:
Our country has a million years of human history, 10,000 years of cultural history and more than 5,000 years of civilization history. The latest archaeological results show that China is the hometown of oriental mankind, and is tied with Africa as the first place where mankind originated; the Beijing apes invented the use of artificial fire 500,000 years ago, one of the first in the world; as early as 10,000 years ago, our ancestors planted millet and rice, and the origin of agriculture is tied with West Asia and North Africa as the first; China's inventions and discoveries in musical instruments, canoes, irrigation facilities, astronomy, etc. are also the first or among the earliest in the world.
Our country was a world leader in the development of ancient civilizations during the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages.
Chinese civilization is the only civilization in the world that has continued uninterrupted since ancient times.
The ancient Chinese agricultural technology, the "Four Great Inventions," as well as lacquer ware, silk, porcelain, iron and steel-making technology, the county system, and the imperial examination system are distinctive and original in the history of world civilization.
China’s course of action, from Xi:
The struggle in the field of history and culture will continue for a long time, and we must attach great importance to archaeological work and use the facts to fight back against all kinds of distortions and defamations of the history of the Chinese nation, so as to provide strong support for the promotion of outstanding Chinese traditional culture and the strengthening of cultural confidence.
There are still many uncharted areas in China's ancient history, and archaeological work is a long way from being done. For example, there are still a lot of gaps in the study of the Xia dynasty, and since there are not enough written records, it is especially important to confirm them as credible history through archaeological discoveries. For example, are the "Three Emperors and Five Emperors" and other prehistoric figures myths and legends or are they real people?
It is necessary to develop a system design and supporting policies of "archaeology first, then (land) transfer", so that land that may have historical and cultural remains cannot be used until the completion of archaeological investigation, exploration, and excavation in accordance with the law.
Crack down on crimes involving historical relics and heritage.
Educating and guiding the cadres and masses, especially the youth, to understand the historical lineage of the origin and development of Chinese civilization, the splendid achievements of Chinese civilization, and the significant contributions of Chinese civilization to human civilization, we will continue to enhance national cohesion and national pride.
1) The Chinese nation should be very proud of the history.
2) Real estate developers, entrepreneurs, and investors that would like to acquire land in China should be keenly aware if the land has historical and cultural remains.
3) Smuggling historic and cultural relics will face serious legal consequences.
July 30 Defense and the PLA
Expert: Chen Rongdi with PLA Academy of Military Sciences
In Xi’s words:
The building of a solid national defense and a strong military is a goal that our Party has long been striving for.
This year, we will achieve our national defense and military building goals for 2020, and taking advantage of the momentum, to start a new journey to basically achieve modernizing our national defense and military, and then turn our military into a world-class army.
(We must) comprehensively promote the modernization of military doctrine, PLA organization, military personnel, and weapons and equipment; speed up the integration and development of mechanization, informatization, and intelligentization; and comprehensively strengthen training to be ready for war.
At present, the profound changes unseen in a century are accelerating and evolving, the COVID-19 pandemic has made a profound impact on the international landscape, and the uncertainty and instability of China's security situation have increased.
(We must) draw up a good 14th Five Year Plan for our PLA.
The world's new military revolution is developing rapidly, providing us with rare opportunities, but also presenting strong challenges.
Make particular emphasis on the reform of the Military Policy System
We should adhere to the strategic basis of independent innovation, strengthen basic research and original innovation, accelerate the breakthrough of key core technologies, accelerate the development of strategic, frontier, and disruptive technologies, accelerate the implementation of major strategic projects in national defense science and technology, and in weapons and equipment.
The central and state organs, local Party committees and governments at all levels should ...give strong support to national defense science and technology innovation, construction of national defense projects, reform of national defense and military, and actively solve problems in such areas as the employment of military family members, enrollment of children in schools, implementation of preferential policies and protection of discharged soldiers.
1) The carefully modest word of basically, as in after 2020 starts a new journey to basically achieve modernizing our national defense and military. As in other scenarios, the adoption of such a word usually means China is very self-aware that the accomplishment is very limited, achieving only the entry-level of a certain threshold. The world-class army phrase may be eye-catching, but that only comes even later, suggesting there is still a long, long way ahead.
2) A big change of PLA guidelines. In the past, the PLA’s objective has always been described as two -zations namely 机械化 mechanization and 信息化 informatization. This is the first time that 智能化 intelligentization is elevated to the same height. Theoretically, a lot of changes at PLA will come after that.
3) Xi’s assessment of China’s national security from an external perspective has grown more negative - China is less secure.
4) The civilian Party/government is urged to lend more helping hands to the PLA so as to solve practical problems and avoid stability-threatening protests, as widely reported, by vets.
5) Xi mentions a 14th Five Year Plan for the PLA. In November, the CPC published its recommendations on the national 14th Fiver Year Plan, which includes several paragraphs on defense and the PLA. It’s not clear if Xi referred to designated chapters in the national plan, or a 14th Five Year Plan dedicated solely to the PLA.
Expert: Hu Jinqi, Secretary-General/Chief of Staff in the Central Department of Organization
The organizational line is perhaps one of the most obscure words in China’s Party speak. There is no easy way to explain it.
The easiest but overly simplistic way to understand the Department of Organization at the central - and every other, in fact - level is it’s the HR department and handles personnel. Yes, decision-making in personnel is in the power of the Party Secretary at their level of Party Committee, but it’s the organization department that’s doing all the vetting, going through all the necessary procedures, evaluating performances, and making recommendations.
In Xi’s words:
A tight organizational system is the advantage and strength of a Marxist party. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, we have focused on the construction of the Party, first of all, the Central Committee, the Politburo, and its Standing Committee, and all the internal Party regulations that we instituted have set higher standards for comrades in the central leadership, requiring them to set a benchmark and set an example for the whole Party in terms of abiding by discipline and rules and fulfilling political responsibilities for Party governance.
The Party's organizational line for the new era is to stick to the policy of adhering to both virtue and talent, to put virtue first, and to appoint/promote people on the basis of merit, which emphasizes that the selection of cadres and the use of talent should not only emphasize virtue but also not neglect talent...Party organizations at all levels should strictly keep the gate of (evaluating cadres on their ) politics, integrity, and capabilities.
We must pay close attention to the construction of the Party's organizational system. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee has formulated and revised a series of internal Party regulations on organizational construction...The relevant departments of the central government and Party committees (Party groups) at all levels should take into account the actual situation, concretize the Party's internal organization laws and regulations and the requirements put forward by the Central Committee of the Party, establish and improve a complete system of organization systems,
1) The Party must not be a “loose" one where there are little discipline and members charter their own separate courses. And the requirement of discipline began from the top echelons of the Party.
2) 德 Virtue, one of the two qualities stressed by Xi, is a loose concept which I summarize in three aspects: in politics, the cadre must be loyal to the Party, with Xi at the center; the cadre must be clean, as in no corruption; and the cadre must not deviate from public order and good morals.
3) The Party has been formalizing and publishing its own rules and regulations, in a fashion sometimes dubbed 党内立法 intra-Party legislation. The point is to have a system of clear, written rules for organizations and cadres to follow, NOT uncodified rules taking the form of customs, usage, precedent and a variety of scattered statutes and instruments. Uncodified rules, it is apparently decided, will lead to inconsistency, confusion, and ineffectiveness. Expect more intra-Party rules to come.
May 29th, the Civil Code
Expert: Huang Wei, a career official with the National People’s Congress Standing Committee
The first interesting thing about this group study session is its timing -May 29th. After almost the five entire months of 2020, the Chinese political elites are comfortable enough to resume the group study send a clear signal that the COVID-19 pandemic is firmly under control.
Earlier that month, the National People’s Congress passed the Civil Code 民法典.
In Xi’s words:
It is the first law in the history of the People’s Republic of China that’s been named a Code 典, a major accomplishment in the building of the socialist rule of law in the new era.
Xi says the level and effectiveness of the implementation of the Civil Code is an important measure of how well Party and government organs at all levels fulfill their purpose of serving the people. State organs must be clear about the scope and limits of their actions and activities in performing their duties and exercising their powers. Party and state organs at all levels must take into account the provisions of the Civil Code in carrying out their work, and must not violate the people's legitimate civil rights, including personal and property rights. The relevant government, supervisory and judicial organs shall perform their functions and exercise their powers in accordance with the law to protect civil rights from infringement and promote harmonious and orderly civil relations.
Governments at all levels should ensure the effective implementation of the Civil Code as an important starting point to promote the construction of a government under the rule of law, the Civil Code as an important yardstick for administrative decision-making, administrative management, administrative supervision, and shall not make decisions that detract from the legitimate rights and interests of citizens, legal persons and other organizations or increase their obligations in violation of laws and regulations…
Resolutely prevent intervention in civil and economic disputes in the name of criminality.
1) The Civil Code is not just another law. Its smooth implementation is not only a legal matter but a political one as well, as Xi specified.
2) The Civil Code is traditionally regarded by legal scholars as governing the relationship between individuals and companies, NOT between individuals and government. But Xi takes the view that Party committees and government must also refrain from invading personal rights, because of the Civil Code.
3) Police and other law enforcement get a warning: they must not intervene in civil and economic disputes in the name of criminality. Apparently, this used to happen, perhaps not infrequently.
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Have a nice weekend!