17th March Highlights

The empire strikes back, the new Silk Roads and China’s 2018 constitutional amendments.

Academic exposure: the 1982 constitutional amendments, 35 years later

In light of China’s most consequential legislative event in years, it is interesting to re-emphasize a recent article about the 1982 constitutional amendments concerning term limits in China. In this paper, the author offers a succinct overview of how the 1982 constitutional revision came to be. With the tumultous decade of 1966-1976 in the back of his head, Deng Xiaoping spoke of the need to revise the life-long tenure for leading cadres (干部领导职务终身制). As Deng pointed out, such a revision ought to be reflected in the state’s constitution and have the law as its first and foremost defense (领导制度的改革必须在宪法上得到反映,由国家根本法予以保证).

Indeed, the Cultural Revolution offered a good lesson (文化大革命的历史教训) for the Chinese leadership to restrict the possibility of power accumulation in the hands of one person (防止个人集权与个人崇拜的发生). Be that as it may, there were three main viewpoints: (1) leadership tenure ought to be limited to two terms; (2) continuity could allow for three terms; (3) not agreeing with the previous two, this viewpoint suggested to base the term limits on the sitting person’s abilities.

The second viewpoint received the most interest. However, as state councilor Fang Yi (方毅) noted, two terms would be enough to implement policy. Furthermore, the continuity question (连续性的问题) would already be considered by the CPC during its leadership selection. As a result, the norm would be ‘consecutive terms cannot exceed the two terms’ (连续任职不得超过两届).

Being released prior to this year’s constitutional amendment, the paper by professor Han is interesting for multiple reasons. Firstly, it draws back our attention to the historical period in which the amendments were passed. As the author notes, future amendments ought to also be seen in their proper time, not in the spirit of the 1982 revision. Secondly, the author also proposes for changes in the term limits to only take effect during the next term in office. As such, this suggestion would prevent a leader of using a constitutional amendment to “break open” the own term limit (借助宪法修改突破对其任期限制).

Han Dayuan is Dean of the Renmin University China Law School and president of the Chinese Constitutional Law Society.

Expert view: China’s Marshall Plan

The Belt and Road is often talked about, yet lacks a substantive definition. As a result, the project is often described as an amalgam of projects or labelled by such umbrella terms as China’s Marshall Plan. Aid and development with Chinese characteristics, if you will (see the article below). The American plan for the rebuilding of Europe may indeed offer us some contemporary insights. How does the Marshall Plan stack up against China’s Belt and Road? It is the question asked in a recent article by The Economist.

Official numbers put the amount of direct investment by China at $54 billion between 2014 and 2017. However, as the author notes, that is excluding the loans given by China’s policy banks, which together amount for some $290 billion. In its infancy, the Belt and Road is thus already bigger than the Marshall Plan (amounting for an equivalent of some $130 billion between 1948 and 1951). Is it also more generous?

A better measure of China’s munificence is the gap between the return it earns on BRI projects and the higher rate the market would demand. Some of this reflects a genuine financial sacrifice on China’s part. But some reflects a lower default risk, because for many borrowers defaulting on loans from state-backed Chinese entities is a scarier prospect than bilking a commercial lender.

The real strength of the Marshall Plan lay in its encouragement of market-friendly policies. China, wary of the role of the market, is not seen as doing the same. As such, The Economist describes China’s plan as the “most unsordid structural-adjustment programma.”

Biggest news: China’s government reshuffle

On March 13, state councilor Wang Yong (王勇) delivered the State Council Institutional Reform Plan (国务院机构改革方案). By reforming the party and state functions, the plan is aimed at modernising China’s governance structure, while strengthening the overall leadership of the party.

As a result, the reform plan provides an institutional guarantee (制度保障) for the building of a modern socialist country and China’s great rejuvenation, two goals outlined during the most recent party congress. As such, Wang Yong stated, the plan tackles the institutional drawbacks to allow for a bigger role of the government and the market in constructing a modern economic system.

Most important in a Belt and Road context is the establishment of the State International Development and Cooperation Agency (国家国际发展合作署), essentially combining the roles of the ministries for Commerce and Foreign Affairs. As Wang Yong explained, specific responsibilities for the new agency include formulating plans for foreign aid and monitoring the implementation of these policies. The move thus promotes foreign aid as an important pillar of China’s external relations and the Belt and Road.

A complete overview of the many changes was made available by the brilliant folks at NPC Observer.

To read over breakfast: Silk Road projects

With Xi Jinping being labelled China’s new Mao, surely the Chinese empire has risen from the ashes of its past? Not so fast, Wang Yi (王毅) recently argued, the Belt and Road is aimed at creating a “transparant manner of conduct in accordance with international standards” (实现方式、透明度以及是否符合国际规则).

One argument that is often heard, as the author of this piece notes, is that the newly-crowned Emperor Xi is “aiming for a global power grab by mythologizing the New Silk Roads.” Rather, “it’s about added geopolitical projection based on trade-and-investment connectivity.”

What exactly then do these investments look like? For those as curious as I am, this article offers some compelling insights into how the world works.

In other news:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *