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Communist Party directive reveals Xi's conservative colors

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Pro-democracy activists call for the release of Gao Yu in Hong Kong on April 17.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- A confidential paper commonly referred to as "Document No. 9" in China is in the spotlight following a court ruling in a high-profile case involving its leak to the public.

     On April 17, an intermediate people's court in Beijing sentenced Gao Yu, a 71-year-old Chinese journalist, to seven years in jail for allegedly leaking the document to foreign media.

     Document No. 9, which was circulated among senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party, bans the promotion of "Western values," such as democracy and human rights protection, and calls for continued Communist Party rule.

     Because the document is widely seen as a strong reflection of President Xi Jinping's beliefs, it could provide key clues to the country's future.

Timing of directive

The document in question is said to have been the ninth such issued in April 2013, five months after Xi took the helm of the Communist Party as its general secretary and one month after he assumed the post of president.

     The New York Times published a report on Document No. 9 in August 2013. Hong Kong's Mirror Monthly also published the full text of the document almost simultaneously.

     Gao was arrested in April 2014 for her alleged role in leaking the document, but she has denied involvement and the Hong Kong magazine has also denied the allegations against her.

     The content of Document No. 9 is extremely conservative. The paper prohibits senior Communist Party officials from spreading any political ideas that could undermine the party's rule.

     At first glance, the document does not seem particularly earth-shattering, since it essentially says what conservative newspapers and some of the more controversial commentators in China often say.

     Many people have expressed sympathy toward Gao, claiming that Chinese authorities have been too harsh on her considering that the Document No. 9 contains nothing new.

     But its importance has become clear as Xi consolidates his power and embarks on specific policies that are in line with the document.

The seven prohibitions

Document No. 9 prohibits senior Communist Party officials from doing seven things.

     First, the directive dismisses Western-style democracy.

     The Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party was held about six months after the document was issued. At the key party meeting, the Xi leadership presented its policy outlook, which made almost no reference to political reforms. It was a clear sign the new administration has no intention of moving toward democracy, even on a limited scale.

     The second prohibition is against the promotion of so-called Western values. Senior Communist Party officials are also not allowed to espouse "universal values," such as human rights.

     The government's stance on this point was evident in its unyielding response to Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

     Student leaders of the movement claimed that universal suffrage is a "universal value" and demanded that the region's top leader be elected in a fair election.

     But Beijing blasted the movement as an attempt to subvert the Communist regime in China by supporting Western values.

     Third, Document No. 9 prohibits promoting the idea of "civil society."

     In China, the New Citizens' Movement is calling for the protection of individual rights within the confines of current laws. It does not make extreme demands, such as democratization, but government is keeping a close eye on this movement, too. Xu Zhiyong, leader of the New Citizens' Movement, has also been detained. In January 2014, he was sentenced by an intermediate people's court in Beijing to four years in jail.

     Document No. 9's fourth prohibited item is "neoliberalism," which calls for state interference in economic activities to be as limited as possible and for the economy to be left to market principles.

     The government has already shown its antipathy to neoliberalism by muzzling critics of state-owned monopolies and halting any attempts at privatization.

     Indeed, China CNR and CSR, the country's two largest train manufacturers, merged in March, creating a new state-owned monopoly.

     The fifth prohibition is against "slandering" China's strengthened control of the Internet as a crackdown on free speech and promoting the Western idea of journalism, which includes freedom of the press.

     China's restrictions on the Internet are growing more stringent day by day, with authorities blocking free messaging apps such as Line and KakaoTalk.

     Number six pertains to Mao Zedong. Silencing criticism of the revolutionary leader who led China to communism probably reflects Xi's thoughts more strongly than any other item on the list.

     Xi often inserts remarks made by Mao in his speeches, a sign of how strongly he respects the former leader. Xi's use of an anti-corruption campaign as a tool to drive out political foes is also reminiscent of Mao's governing style.

     The seventh -- and last -- thing prohibited is any questioning of the policy of "reform and opening-up" introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s.

     However, the document appears to be defending "state capitalism" more than Deng's reforms.

     China's government and companies are cooperating more closely to crack overseas markets for nuclear power generation, high-speed railway and other infrastructure development.

Sense of crisis

Judging from the contents of Document No. 9, Xi and his fellow officials feel that in order to maintain communist rule, they must not allow the party's grip on politics, the economy and society to loosen.

     Immediately after the Xi leadership was inaugurated, it was said that politics would be "left" -- or Communist Party- and state-oriented -- while the economy would be "right" -- or market-oriented -- under the new leaders.

     But as things stand, it is closer to the truth to say that both are on the left.

     With economic growth slowing down, the government under Xi has no choice but to accept the introduction of more market principles and the strengthening of the role of private companies.

     At the same time, however, Xi appears to have no intention of carrying out any reforms that could weaken the authority of the Communist Party and the state.




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