Published: 10:35, December 25, 2023 | Updated: 11:11, December 25, 2023
Xi steers decade of reform toward Chinese modernization
By Xinhua

The members of staff assemble vehicles at a factory in a free trade zone in Qingdao, Shandong province. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Amid comprehensive reform over the past decade, President Xi Jinping has steered China toward a future of Chinese modernization with greater confidence, as the country's socialist system with Chinese characteristics is maturing along the way.

From witnessing theoretical development to addressing challenges unique to a large political party, and from advancing national institutional and governance system reforms to driving high-quality development, China has achieved historic, systemic and holistic transformations in many fields over the past 10 years.

David Ferguson, an editor of the English version of the book Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, said he was astonished to see how a remote mountain village in Northwest China's Gansu province could be transformed so dramatically.

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"A decade ago, it took three days to reach Longnan city from there, but now it only takes an hour", he said, noting that all the villages are connected by paved roads, and bridges and tunnels span the mountains. Ferguson attributes China's remarkable progress to the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

In the deepened reform led by Xi, the emphasis has been on institutional improvements, with the task of advancing Chinese modernization deemed a top political priority by the Chinese leader.

"Promoting Chinese modernization is an exploratory undertaking. There are still many unknown areas. We need to boldly explore them in practice and promote our cause through reform and innovation", Xi said.

The Lingdingyang Bridge, completed in May, links Shenzhen and Zhongshan in Guangdong province. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Architect of deepening overall reform

The transformative journey in the new era began with the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee convened in 2013.

There is no country or political party in the whole world that has the political courage and historical responsibility to carry out such a bold and inward-looking self-reform. There is no country or political party that can promote reform in such a wide range of areas, on such a large scale, with such powerful strength and in such a short period of time. This is a distinctive feature and significant advantage of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics.

Xi Jinping

Chinese President

Xi, who has been the general secretary of the CPC Central Committee since November 2012, personally led the drafting committee for the conference documents and outlined the overall objectives of comprehensively deepening reform — to improve and develop the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and modernize China's system and capacity for governance.

Facing international skepticism about China's political system reform, Xi responded resolutely by saying that reform must continue on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. "Reform must stay on the right course, neither going back down the rigid, closed-door path of the past nor embarking on the erroneous path of changing our political direction".

Xi spearheaded the establishment of the central leading group for deepening overall reform, which later evolved into the central commission for comprehensively deepening reform. To date, it has convened some 70 meetings, and reviewed and approved many plans and proposals, including the development of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, the building of a unified domestic market, and the adoption of the "river chief" and "lake chief "systems.

"Many key reforms would not have been carried out without Xi's decisive decisions", recalled a scholar involved in drafting the documents for comprehensively deepening reform.

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Xi underlined the paramount importance of the new development philosophy among the key theories and concepts on economic and social development that have been put forward since the 18th CPC National Congress.

"The GDP growth rate can not serve as the sole yardstick of success for development. Rather, it is imperative to achieve high-quality development in which innovation is the primary driver, coordination is an endogenous trait, eco-friendly growth prevails, openness to the world is the only way, and shared growth is the ultimate goal, with a view to propelling transformative changes in the quality, efficiency and impetus of economic development", he said.

Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era has provided a systematic, high-level blueprint and operational path for all aspects of modernization. It stands as an indisputable guide to action for achieving national rejuvenation.

Xi has called for comprehensively advancing law-based governance, emphasizing that throughout the reform process, great importance must be attached to thinking and acting under the guidance of the rule of law, and reforms must be carried out in accordance with the rule of law.

Furthermore, he determined a value orientation for comprehensively deepening the reform, which is to ensure that all people can benefit more thoroughly and fairly from the fruits of reform and development.

Ten years into deepening reform across the board, China has eliminated absolute poverty and formed the world's largest middle-income group of over 400 million people. China has established the world's largest social security system, and the average life expectancy of its people has increased from 74.8 years to 78.2 years in a decade.

Under Xi's helm, China has achieved its goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, an important stride toward national rejuvenation.

Per the decision of Xi, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, the People's Liberation Army completed the most extensive and profound national defense and military reform since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

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Xi also delved into the unique challenges facing a party as large as the CPC and found the self-revolution of the Party a viable solution. From introducing the central Party leadership's eight-point decision on improving work conduct to tackling pointless formalities, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance, and from conducting disciplinary inspection and supervision to the establishment of the Audit Commission of the CPC Central Committee, a series of systemic arrangements have been put in place to ensure that "power is exercised in broad daylight".

Over the course of a decade, China has twice undertaken large-scale reforms of the Party and state institutions, guided by a problem-oriented approach and not shying away from adjusting power and interests. The establishment of the National Commission of Supervision marked the first instance of comprehensive oversight over all public office holders exercising public power.

"There is no country or political party in the whole world that has the political courage and historical responsibility to carry out such a bold and inward-looking self-reform. There is no country or political party that can promote reform in such a wide range of areas, on such a large scale, with such powerful strength and in such a short period of time. This is a distinctive feature and significant advantage of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics", Xi said.

A horticultural expo held in Shenzhen in April attracts visitors from around the world. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Xi's reform methodology

In addressing the areas requiring reform and the methods to be employed, Xi has adeptly used metaphors such as "navigating treacherous waters" and "gnawing the bones "to encourage people to confront tough challenges.

Over the past decades, the Chinese leadership has amassed successful experiences including "emancipating the mind and seeking truth from facts", "adhering to a problem-oriented approach" and "correctly handling the relationship between reform, development and stability".

While sticking with these norms, Xi has also exerted his wisdom and explored new ways. He stressed pursuing reform in a more systemic, holistic and coordinated manner.

Addressing corruption is imperative, and efforts are directed toward bridging rural-urban gaps and ensuring more equitable medical services. These aspects constitute the more challenging facets of China's reform process, which entails taking huge risks and invariably dents the core interests of many

"Gnawing the bones" is a key reform method. It involves tackling tough issues such as the streamlining of the government, delegation of power, and enhancement of transparency in government affairs. Addressing corruption is imperative, and efforts are directed toward bridging rural-urban gaps and ensuring more equitable medical services. These aspects constitute the more challenging facets of China's reform process, which entails taking huge risks and invariably dents the core interests of many.

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Upholding the "zero tolerance" principle, the anti-corruption drive investigated more than 4.7 million people in 10 years. The medical reform is providing increasingly effective and low-cost services to the people.

Another major methodology of China's reform is a gradual approach, which ensures continued success.

Xi mandated that localities and sectors undertake pilot roles to test initiatives for the country, with integrated institutional innovation serving as the linchpin. He emphasized the need to establish the new before abolishing the old and to pursue progress while ensuring stability.

China's 22 pilot free trade zones (FTZs) are trialing new ways to facilitate trade, investment and cross-border cooperation. Pudong in Shanghai, the city of Shenzhen, and Zhejiang province are undertaking pilot roles in socialist modernization, socialism with Chinese characteristics, and common prosperity, respectively.

In November, China announced its decision to choose 100 carbon peak pilot cities and industrial parks, with the first batch of 35 already made public. "Green transformation is a process, not something that can be accomplished overnight", Xi warned.

The deepened reform is moving forward with solid momentum. Such reform differs from the radical "shock therapy" employed by some countries and it is not a mere patching-up for existing problems as seen in some developed countries. It is a comprehensive reform that is people-centered and respects the pioneering spirit of the people.

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Xi likened the critical rural reform initiated 45 years ago in Xiaogang village to a "life and death" moment. To address rural conundrums and problems today, deepened reform is needed, he said.

Highlighting a similarly daring initiative by people in Fujian to explore land use right in the mountains, Xi said, "We respect the initiative of the people, and the people are the real heroes".

China's reform promotes democracy, listens to public opinion, and incorporates people's suggestions into legislation, planning and decision-making.

The above-mentioned reform methodology, along with systematic thinking, treating both symptoms and root causes, and a dialectical approach, is derived from China's reality and culture and sets in motion more changes for the future.

Championing reform for modernization

Comprehensively deepening reform has been viewed by Xi as the fundamental driving force for Chinese modernization, which is key to realizing national rejuvenation.

His calls resonated well across the country.

Hefei, capital of Anhui Province and an inland city once much less conspicuous, is being transformed into a "city of the future". It is now home to a world-class new display industry, a thriving new energy vehicle sector, and some of the world's most cutting-edge technologies in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, deep space exploration and nuclear fusion.

The burgeoning development has been catalyzed by a raft of reform measures that empower cash-strapped strategic emerging industries with state-owned capital, beef up policy support for national basic research projects, and open public resources to provide the much-needed application scenarios for new technologies.

Hefei is the epitome of how the deepening reform championed by Xi has propelled China's pursuit of modernization, which entails high-quality development and the greater role of innovation in driving growth.

The city has set up special municipal-level committees for advancing sci-tech innovation and fostering strategic emerging industries, the earliest among its peers.

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"We have to mobilize resources citywide to support these sectors as they typically need a long period of development before generating returns, with great uncertainty," said Yuan Fei, vice-mayor of Hefei. "It's like we push for physical reactions first until chemical changes occur when they have appeal to the market".

China has completed 143 reform tasks in this regard, helping boost its ranking on the Global Innovation Index from 35th in 2013 to 12th this year. The tech-intensive green trio — solar batteries, lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles — have replaced apparel, home appliances and furniture to become the "three major drivers" of the country's foreign trade

Whatever local officials have been doing, it appears to be "the right mix of industrial policy and private-sector mojo", The Economist quoted Robin Xing, an economist at Morgan Stanley, as saying in a report on the city's success.

Noting that the key to Chinese modernization lies in the modernization of science and technology, Xi has urged deepening structural scientific and technological reform and establishing a foundational system for all-around innovation.

China has completed 143 reform tasks in this regard, helping boost its ranking on the Global Innovation Index from 35th in 2013 to 12th this year. The tech-intensive green trio — solar batteries, lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles — have replaced apparel, home appliances and furniture to become the "three major drivers" of the country's foreign trade.

Reform is also taking hold in China's vast rural areas. Xi has pushed for significant reforms on the rights to contracted rural land and the rural collective property rights system, noting that "reform must be well leveraged as a powerful instrument for advancing rural revitalization across the board".

In Houbaligou Village of east China's Shandong Province, the reform of collective property rights has enabled villagers to hold shares in a cooperative engaged in businesses like real estate, education and commerce.

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The village's collective assets ballooned to over 8 billion yuan (about $1.1 billion) at present from 3.5 billion yuan before the reform, and the incomes of the villages have continued to grow.

Nationwide, rural residents' per capita disposable income surpassed 20,000 yuan for the first time in 2022. The income gap between urban and rural residents has gradually narrowed over the past decade.

To achieve a modernization that features harmony between humanity and nature, Xi has systematically planned institutional reform for eco-environmental development.

Dozens of reform initiatives have been implemented. The toughest-ever environmental protection law was enacted, systems of river, lake and forest chiefs were instituted nationwide, and red lines were drawn for ecological conservation.

These measures have led to sweeping changes. From 2012 to 2021, China's annual energy consumption growth rate of 3 percent supported an average economic growth rate of 6.6 percent. China has seen the fastest improvement in air quality globally and it leads in forest resource growth and afforestation.

The tone-setting Central Economic Work Conference, which was held earlier this month, called for planning major measures to further carry out reform in all areas next year. It called for deepening and upgrading the reform of state-owned enterprises, promoting the growth of private enterprises, speeding up the development of a unified national market and planning a new round of fiscal and tax system reform.

China is expected to strive for breakthroughs in some critical links and key sectors of reform to build a high-standard socialist market economy and lay a solid foundation for sustained high-quality development and advancement of Chinese modernization, according to observers.

Pushing for greater openness

Under the leadership of Xi, China has become increasingly integrated with the rest of the world by making tenacious efforts to push for high-level institutional opening up.

These efforts, ranging from the launch of negative lists for foreign investment, cross-border trade in services, and the promulgation of the Foreign Investment Law to the establishment of pilot FTZs, have testified to the president's commitment to "never closing the country's door but only opening the country wider to the outside world".

When the Shanghai pilot FTZ was inaugurated in 2013, Xi expressed high hopes regarding the new test field, urging the local government to "make brave trials, break through vigorously and reform on its own initiative so as to achieve more results that could be replicated elsewhere across the country".

Ten years on, more than 3,400 reform tasks have been trialed in the country's FTZs, with 302 institutional innovations implemented at the national level.

In November, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released a report, considering FTZs as "important strategic measures" for China's further development and commending their roles in promoting institutional innovation, industrial transformation and South-South cooperation.

Xi has also emphasized on multiple occasions the need to optimize the environment for foreign investment and comprehensively guarantee the national treatment of foreign-invested enterprises.

Over the years, China has moved to cut the negative lists for foreign investment access, supported foreign investment in advanced manufacturing, modern service industries and cutting-edge technologies, and encouraged foreign-invested enterprises to become "industrial leaders" in energy and water efficiency.

Many heavyweight multinational companies have come to invest in China. Elon Musk, CEO of the US electric carmaker Tesla, was "astounded" by the progress made by the company's Shanghai gigafactory, calling the local team's work "mind-blowing".

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On the financial front, Standard Chartered Securities, the first newly-established wholly foreign-owned securities company in China, is looking forward to starting business in the first half of next year.

"Just as some leaders of the business community have said, China has become a synonym of the best investment destination, and that the 'next China' is still China", Xi said.

Although the global consensus on openness has weakened amid rising unilateralism and protectionism and stronger de-globalization headwinds, Xi has on many occasions stressed the need to resolutely "stand on the right side of history" to foster an open world economy.

Under Xi's planning, deployment and promotion, the China International Import Expo (CIIE), the world's first import-themed national-level expo, debuted in Shanghai in 2018 as one of China's signature moves to share China's market with the rest of the world.

Several other national-level exhibitions, including the China International Fair for Trade in Services, the China International Consumer Products Expo, and the China International Supply Chain Expo, have also gained popularity for facilitating much-needed trade and industrial cooperation.

This year, the CIIE hosted a delegation organized by the US Department of Agriculture, marking the first-ever group of exhibitors representing the US federal government in the history of the expo.

As an important platform to materialize the vision of building a community with a shared future for humanity, the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by Xi has yielded fruitful results.

More than 150 countries and over 30 international organizations have signed relevant cooperation documents with China, covering more than three-quarters of the world's countries and more than 60 percent of the world's population.

China has been advancing modernization at full throttle and its spillover effect can already be seen. Over the past decade, China's share of the world economy has risen from 12.3 percent to over 18 percent, and its annual contribution to global growth has exceeded 30 percent on average.

All the changes could be traced back to 1978, when China adopted the policy of reform and opening up. At that time, CP Group from Thailand was one of the first foreign companies to enter the Chinese market.

"With the country's comprehensive national strength growing and its economy further prospering, we believe China will only open wider to the outside world", said James Ye, vice-chairman of CP Group China.

While addressing the opening ceremony of the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in October, Xi shared his views on global modernization.

"The modernization we are pursuing is not for China alone, but for all developing countries through our joint efforts. Global modernization should be pursued to enhance peaceful development and mutually beneficial cooperation and bring prosperity to all", he said.

The story has been written by Wang Jinye, Li Zhihui, Cheng Yunjie, Wang Xiuqiong, Lou Chen, Zhang Yunlong, Wang Yaguang, Li Baojie, Cui Enhui, Xu Lingui, Gui Tao, Wang Pan, Zhao Ruixi, Wu Tao, Chen Shangying, Wang Haiyue, Sun Xiaohui, Zhang Xinyi, Yuan Min, Zhong Qun, Wu Maohui, Chen Kaizi and Yan Yujing.