Top leadership's group study sessions show improving governance capacity
The group study sessions of China's top leadership are a clear indication of the Communist Party of China's progress in improving its governance capacity since the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee commenced the institutionalized practice in 2002.
As a fine tradition of the CPC to build itself into a more powerful political party to govern the world's most populous country and secure the goal of national rejuvenation, the regular convening of the group study sessions also demonstrates the Party's scientific and democratic policymaking process through discussions and sharing information.
Since Xi Jinping became general secretary of the CPC Central Committee in 2012, he has, on many occasions, underscored the importance of learning for all Party members in order to equip them with stronger ideals and beliefs and up-to-date knowledge.
After almost eight years, Xi has presided over 65 group study sessions for the 25-member central authority. The latest one took place on Thursday, two days before the 93rd anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army.
During the session on Thursday, Chen Rongdi, a researcher at the People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences, gave a lecture on strengthening the modernization of national defense and the armed forces. Presiding over the session, Xi urged efforts to coordinate the nation's development and security as well as its prosperity and military capability to ensure national defense and the armed forces are in synergy with the nation's modernization process.
Zhu Lijia, a professor of public administration at the National Academy of Governance, said it is a special characteristic of the CPC to place great importance on learning, which has played a vital role in ensuring the Party's long-term ruling of the country and uniting and leading the Chinese people to achieve economic growth and social stability.
Through regular study sessions on a particular subject and consultation with experts, the top leaders keep abreast of the development of the domestic and international situation, update themselves with state-of-the-art knowledge in various fields, and strengthen consensus on Party building, Zhu said.
Most study sessions have focused on concrete policy issues such as reform and development, national security, rule of law, history, global governance, ecological and environmental protection, poverty relief, urban development and science and technology.
Some sessions have explored theoretical or ideological issues, such as Party building and how to build socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The topics of the lectures always advance with the times, Zhu said, and they are chosen to be closely related to domestic and international developments, China's reform and opening-up or in response to pressing social and public needs.
Among others, Party building is an important topic as it contributes to building stronger ideological awareness, beliefs and values among all Party members so that they will faithfully implement the decisions and policies of the CPC Central Committee, he added.
The way that the central authority studies has evolved from simply attending lectures given by experts, to having more diversified sessions including discussions, research and self-study.
The sessions are usually conducted at Zhongnanhai, the central leadership compound in Beijing, but sometimes they take place at other venues.
For example, on Sept 30, 2013, Xi and other members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee visited the innovation demonstration center in Beijing's Zhongguancun technology hub.
There, Xi and other leaders spoke with scientists and researchers in the fields of 3D printing, integrated circuitry and energy conservation, and asked about the development and application of nano materials, big data and biochip technology.
Observers said the group study session at the front line of the country's innovation industry showed that China's top leadership is flexible in both the form and content of the study sessions.
The institutionalized group study sessions are a great innovation of the CPC, said Zhu Lingjun, a professor specializing in Party building at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee. This demonstrates a significant step that helps the CPC build itself into a learning Party, he added.
When delivering the work report on behalf of the CPC Central Committee at the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, Xi said: "We will foster a Marxist style of learning, and make it a regular practice and an institutionalized requirement for all Party members to gain a good command of the Party Constitution, Party regulations, and related major policy addresses and to meet Party standards."
"We should be good at learning. We will foster a strong atmosphere of learning and practicing in the Party, and build our Party into a Marxist learning party," Xi added.
Although lecturers for the study sessions have been selected from all over the country, most of them are from universities, and research and academic institutions, and are experts in a particular field. Some are also from departments under the CPC Central Committee and the State Council.
The study sessions serve as opportunities for members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee to obtain information, analysis and policy recommendations on specific issues from leading experts in China, but the function of these meetings goes far beyond informing policymaking.
Zhu, from the National Academy of Governance, said the study sessions have become windows through which the international community can glimpse senior Party leaders' take on international and domestic issues, their focus of attention and corresponding measures and policies in dealing with China's problems.
They also set an example for lower-level officials and send out signals about the current policy focuses and intentions of the central leadership, he added.
Speaking at a conference marking the 80th anniversary of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee on March 1, 2013, Xi said the CPC has got to where it is today through learning, and it will continue along this course in the future.
With more than 90 million members, the CPC will mark its centenary next year as the world's largest political party. While uniting the Chinese people to achieve economic growth and social stability, the CPC has also led the country to become an important player on the international stage, and actively participated in global governance in an open, inclusive and cooperative manner.
Experts said that the courage for self-reform has created continual impetus and ensured the correct course in the CPC's 70-year journey as the ruling Party of the country. Through thematic educational campaigns, the CPC requires all Party members and officials to abide by the Party Constitution, brings the Party closer to the people, and urges Party officials to maintain disciplinary and moral integrity.
In its latest step in self-reform, the CPC launched a monthslong education campaign themed "staying true to our founding mission" throughout the Party from June 2019.
The CPC is a very dynamic organization, said Martin Jacques, author of the book When China Rules the World, and a China expert and senior fellow at Cambridge University. It has been very successful at reforming itself to move with the times, which is quite difficult for big parties, he added.
Zhang Guozuo, director of the Changsha-based Center of Soft Power Studies in Hunan province, said China has emerged as the second-largest economy in the world and the CPC has become the world's largest political party, but predictable and unpredictable risks and challenges remain.
To meet the challenges the country faces, the CPC needs to be equipped with a profound theoretical mindset and forward-looking political insight, Zhang said, adding that this requires constant learning in the Party.