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The CCP Politburo Reviews Revised Regulations for Party Affairs


On 30 November, People’s Republic of China (PRC) state press announced a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo meeting held the same day, with an official summary of the event presented in identical language across multiple state media outlets. The summary article provided no specific details of the meeting’s deliberations, but indicated that the Politburo had reviewed “revised” (修订) versions of three documents: Military Political Work Regulations for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Chinese Communist Party United Front Work Regulations, and Regulations on Ensuring the Rights of Chinese Communist Party Members. The summary article provided vague overview descriptions of the new documents—descriptions that, despite being light on detail and heavy on propaganda phraseology, provide some limited insights into the revised regulations.


Military Political Work Regulations


The first of the documents addressed in the summary was Military Political Work Regulations (军队政治工作条例). This reported new version of the document represents the first official revision of military political work directives for the PLA since 2010—as well as the first revised edition since the PLA reforms of 2015-2016, which replaced the former General Political Department of the PLA General Staff Department with a reorganized Political Work Department (政治工作部) under the CCP Central Military Committee (CMC).


The previous 2010 document, produced under the tenure of CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao, was not officially published—but reportedly included an emphasis on “public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare” (舆论战心理战法律战). The public announcement of the 2010 edition offered vague declarations that the regulations "fully reflect[ed]… [CMC] Chairman Hu Jintao's historical missions for our army in the New Century and the New Period," and that they provided unspecified measures to strengthen the roles of party committees, organizations, and political cadres amid expanding missions for the PLA. Although the 2010 announcement made repeated reference to Hu’s official ideological formulation of the “Scientific Development Concept,” it also gave due deference to the "important guiding thought" of "Deng Xiaoping Theory" and Jiang Zemin’s theory of the "Three Represents."


The 30 November summary description of the newly-revised 2020 Military Political Work Regulations made no such nod to previous CCP leaders, instead focusing entirely on fawning references to Xi’s official ideological formulations—such as the need to strengthen the "Four Consciousnesses" (四个意识), "Four Self-Confidences" (四个自信”), and the "Two Upholds" (两个维护).[1] The summary also asserted that the newly-revised Military Political Work Regulations would "deepen the implementation of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era and the spirit of the 19th Party Congress."


The summary included multiple assertions of the need for strict CCP control over the PLA, to include: the imperative to "persist in the fundamental principle and system of the Party's absolute leadership of the army;" the requirement to "ensure that our army from start to finish is a people's army under the absolute leadership of the Party;" and the need to "strengthen party leadership over the military political work system." Such boilerplate text is to be expected in any CCP document regarding the PLA, but the repetitive nature of such language in a brief summary document itself drives home a point. The theme of party control and the centralization of power was particularly pronounced in regard to Xi Jinping himself, and to the authority vested in Xi as Chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission. In addition to invoking the need to "persist in educating people and forging spirits [with] Xi Jinping's thought on strengthening the army," the summary asserted that the new regulations would "strengthen the centralized and unified leadership of the party center and Central Military Commission" over PLA political work, and "comprehensively deepen [and] implement the Military Commission chairman responsibility system."


As for the nature of military political work itself, the summary article asserted the centrality of this discipline, stating that "political work is the lifeline of the PLA, [and] can only be strengthened, [it] must not be weakened." In terms of preparation for war, the PLA was exhorted to take political work and "merge [it] into the entire course of preparations for military struggle." The summary did not indicate what specific measures the PLA should adopt in terms of organization or training for political warfare. However, it did make the noteworthy assertion that PLA political personnel should "promote high-level fusion of the superiority of political work traditions with information technology"—a seemingly implicit nod to the importance of conducting political warfare in the realms of internet media and big data analysis.


Chinese Communist Party United Front Work Regulations


The second document discussed was a revision to the Chinese Communist Party United Front Work Regulations (中国共产党统一战线工作条例). The previous official edition of this document was produced in 2015—thereby making this new version the second edition to be produced under Xi’s tenure but the first under the current Central Committee and Politburo that emerged from the 19th Party Congress. The new regulations reflect a continuing emphasis on the importance of united front work under Xi, as well as continuing growth in the roles of united front organs within the party-state bureaucracy.

The summary description of this document was the shortest of the three presented in the 30 November article, consisting of only two brief paragraphs. It emphasized that “party committees (and organizations) at all levels should fully recognize the importance of New Era united front work,” and that they should “achieve the situation of the entire party conducting united front work.” The summary exhorted party members to understand the power of united front work to "unify all that can be united," and to “raise up [the extent to which] united front work is scientific, standardized, and institutionalized.” The description also stressed the theme of centralization, stating that the new regulations would “strengthen the party's centralized and unified leadership over united front work.” However, the summary did not provide any specifics from the referenced document as to how these goals were to be achieved.


Regulations on Ensuring the Rights of Chinese Communist Party Members


The third document referenced was Regulations on Ensuring the Rights of Chinese Communist Party Members (中国共产党党员权利保障条例). The summary provided a series of exhortations regarding the need to “respect the central position of party members,” as well as to maintain discipline against corruption and “unhealthy tendencies” (不正之风)—with the latter often used as coded language to refer to ideological laxity or disloyalty to the CCP. Party cadres were directed to maintain a “unified relationship between exercising the powers and rights of office [while] abiding by discipline.” The summary description of this document continued to emphasize the theme of centralized authority, stating that the new regulations would embody "the superiority of the system of party leadership" and “[bring] all party members even more closely united around the periphery of the party center.”


Although the summary article provided no specifics as to what these regulations would entail, it did stress two noteworthy themes that hint at some of the ideological priorities behind the revised document. The article stressed the CCP leadership’s emphasis on “unceasing strengthening of the system of inner-party democracy,” and commented that senior party cadres should “lead party members to develop [practices of] democratic supervision.” The revived theme of “democratic” practices within the party has been actively promoted in CCP propaganda since at least late 2019: for example, the 2019-2023 National Work Program for the Education and Cultivation of Party Members (2019—2023年全国党员教育培训工作规划), an official series of directives on ideological indoctrination for party members released by the CCP Central Committee in November 2019, included an emphasis on convening periodic “democratic life meetings” (民主生活会) in which cadres would “seriously criticize and conduct self-criticism” in order to improve party discipline and governance. This Neo-Maoist throwback was modeled in a Politburo “democratic life meeting” held in December 2019—albeit one that, based on official coverage, consisted largely of Politburo members taking sequential turns to praise Xi and his leadership.


A second theme hinted at in the 30 November summary was the imperative to generate genuine enthusiasm and energy among party members. The summary noted the need to “inspire party members to get involved with party building and [to display] enthusiasm for the Party's cause, [and show] initiative and creativity.” This once again paralleled language contained in the November 2019 ideological education program, which stressed the need to engage with young party members so that they would “inherit red genes” (传承红色基因) of loyalty to the CCP.[2] It also accorded with the state propaganda system’s ongoing campaign against “formalism” (形式主义) and “bureaucratism” (官僚主义)—terms that were not explicitly used in this section of the 30 November summary article, but which were invoked in the first section about military political work.


Conclusion


As of this writing, the full-text documents for these three sets of revised regulations have not been released to the public. Some earlier versions of these documents have been released in the past: for example, the previous edition of Chinese Communist Party United Front Work Regulations was released in draft form in 2015, and a more specific set of official “opinions” on united front work in private enterprises was published in September of this year. It is unknown whether the full text of these three sets of revised Regulations will eventually be released, but there are a number of reasons that they might be held within internal party channels—for example, to avoid disclosing material that might reveal political warfare methods, or shed light on sensitive topics such as disinformation and influence operations directed against Taiwan. The 30 November summary in state media provided no details on the specifics of the revised Regulations in these three major policy areas—but it did reaffirm a message about some of the key priorities of the current CCP leadership, and of the continuing drive for centralization under Xi Jinping.

[1] These three slogans are intended to reinforce loyalty to the CCP as an institution, and to Xi as its absolute leader. The “four consciousnesses” (四个意识, sige yishi) consist of “consciousness of politics, consciousness of the general situation, consciousness of the [party] core, and consciousness of alignment [with the party]” [政治意识、大局意识、核心意识、看齐意识]. The “four confidences” (四个自信, sige zixin) consist of maintaining “steadfast confidence in the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, confidence in theory, confidence in the system, [and] confidence in [our] culture” [坚定中国特色社会主义道路自信、理论自信、制度自信、文化自信]. The “two upholds” (两个维护, liangge weihu) are to “resolutely uphold General Secretary Xi Jinping as the core of the party center, [and as holding] the core position of the entire party; [and to] resolutely uphold the authority of the party center and centralized, unified leadership” [坚决维护习近平总书记党中央的核心、全党的核心地位,坚决维护党中央权威和集中统一领导]. [See: “Li Junru: Strengthening ‘The Four Consciousnesses’ Especially Consciousness of the Core and Consciousness of Alignment” [李君如:增强“四个意识”特别是核心意识和看齐意识], People’s Daily Theory Channel, March 20, 2017, http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2017/0320/c168824-29156444.html; and “Keeping Steadfast to the Fundamental Basis of the ‘Four Confidences'” [坚定“四个自信”的基本依据], People’s Daily, November 11, 2017. http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2016/0707/c49150-28532466.html; and Xue Wanbo [薛万博], “How to Correctly Understand ‘The Two Upholds’?” [如何正确理解“两个维护”?], CCP News, Feb. 22, 2019, http://cpc.people.com.cn/n1/2019/0222/c123889-30897358.html.]


[2] See footnote #1, above.

John Dotson joined the CACR staff as a Senior Analyst in November 2020. Prior to his current role, John served as an analyst with the research firm Pointe Bello, and as the editor of China Brief with the Jamestown Foundation. He also served for six years on the staff of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, where he coordinated staff research on a range of trade and national-security issues on behalf of the US Congress. He performed twenty years of combined active and reserve service as an officer in the U.S. Navy, to include positions at sea, in Japan, in Africa, and the Pentagon. His service in the Navy included four years as an instructor on the faculty of the National Intelligence University, where he taught coursework on military strategy, intelligence analysis, and national security policy. Throughout his multiple roles, John has performed extensive writing and research on a host of China-related topics, to include propaganda and political influence efforts, and elite-level politics within the Chinese Communist Party. He holds an M.A. in National Security Studies from the US Naval War College, and a Master of International Public Policy from Johns Hopkins-SAIS.