Led by President Xi Jinping, China is about to finish year 2018 with future uncertainty which the country has not experienced during recent years. Dark clouds are hanging over the country due to the trade war brought by U.S. President Donald Trump and the Huawei incident. However, the Xi Jinping government of 2018 was thought to have started the year smoothly after successfully hosting President Trump in November 2017. This was symbolized by amending China’s constitution and abolishing the presidential term limit at the National People’s Congress in March. By removing the framework of a “two-term and ten-year” system, he made it possible for himself to remain as the president and the leader of the state after his current term comes to an end in March 2023.
Neither the amendment of the constitution nor the centralization of power to Xi was put forth individually. These were conducted as part of a series of actions to “strengthen the authority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, (CPC Central Committee)” which had been carefully prepared even before the National Congress of the Communist Party in October. The purpose of this essay is to portray the image of a “strong” Communist Party—“strong” is the keyword of the China led by Xi—by focusing on the current party and state institutional reforms which formulated a complete picture of the series of actions.
Two Main Features of the 2018 Structural Reforms
On March 22, the day after the release of the “Plan to Deepen Reforms in Party and State Institutions ,”major Japanese newspapers had the following headlines: “The Chinese Coast Guard is Now Under the Control of the Military Authority. This May Cause the Territorial Dispute Over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands to Flare Up” (by Asahi Shimbun), “The Chinese Coast Guard is Now Under the Control of the Military Authority” (by Sankei Shimbun), “China Put the Responsibility of Territorial Water Vigilance Under the Military Commission—the Japanese Government is on High Security Alert” (by Nikkei), “President Xi is the Head of State and is Augmenting Powers of the Party’s Top Organizations” (by Mainichi Shimbun) and “The Chinese Coast Guard Was Incorporated Into the Military Police Unit” (by Yomiuri Shimbun). Although the overall relationship between China and Japan has been improving, there has not been any sign of diminishing tension with the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands issue. Considering this, it is quite understandable for newspaper publishers to report this event in the manner they did. However, looking at the current institutional reforms from the standpoint of a Chinese political perspective, I must say that they cannot take this issue too lightly.
I think that there are two major features in the current reforms.
The first feature is that the reforms aim to strengthen the authority and leadership of the CPC Central Committee. As mentioned in the plan, “the most essential feature of socialism in China is the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party”. Since the Communist Party is the organization which governs everything—“party, government, military, society and education, east, west, south, north and the center”, it is totally natural for the Party to want to strengthen and utilize its authority more effectively.
The CPC Central Committee’s institutional reform, which was specified in the plan, is extremely detailed and extensive, but the first point which becomes clear when summarizing the plan is the establishment and improvement of “the Decision-Making, Deliberation and Coordination Organizations of the CPC Central Committee”.” This term is literally translated as “institutions which make decisions on policies at the central level discuss public matters and coordinate opinions between organizations under the leadership of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee and its Standing Committee.” In general, it is called “the Leadership Group” or “the Commission/Committee” and is expected to exercise a unified leadership of the Party over state institutions, including the State Council, from the highest level. However, neither institution—“the Leadership Group” nor the “Commission”—is mentioned in the Party’s constitution. In the current institutional reforms, the goal is “to review the organizational structures and functions of the institutions in order for them to actively participate in the ‘top-down design, overall arrangement, overall coordination, unified promotion and supervised implementations’ of major policies”. Looking at the plan in detail, three institutions—the Central Commission for Comprehensive “Rule of the Country by Law”, the Central Audit Commission and the Central Leadership Group for Educational Work—were newly established. Administrative offices, similar to the secretariat office in Japan, were established at the Ministry of Justice, the National Audit Office and the Ministry of Education of the State Council. The administrative office of the Central Leadership Group for Educational Work is called the “Secretarial Group.” In addition, four existing leadership groups—the Central Leadership Group on Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, the Central Leadership Group for Cybersecurity and Informatization, the Central Leadership Group on Economic and Financial Affairs and the Central Leadership Group for Foreign Affairs—upgraded to commissions which have administrative offices in order to “strengthen the Party’s centralized and unified leadership over the major procedures of all national projects and strengthen its policy decision-making and overall functions”. By the way, the head of these seven commissions and leadership groups, excluding the head of the Central Leadership Group for Educational Work which is yet to be announced, is Xi Jinping.
The leadership power of the CPC Central Committee over the state institutions was strengthened by absorbing various responsibilities which used to be given to each ministry of the government (State Council). This will be achieved by consolidating powers from the three institutions—the Organization Department, the Publicity Department and the United Front Work Department —and putting them directly under the control of the CPC Central Committee. For example, by incorporating the State Administration of Civil Service, the Organization Department manages the State Administration of Civil Service in a unified manner. (The State Administration of Civil Service was practically abolished). The Publicity Department took the responsibilities of newspaper publishing management and movie administration away from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.Also, the Chinese Media Group, a newly established media organization which broadcasts television and radio in China and overseas, is controlled by the Party. The United Front Work Department governs the State Ethnic Affairs Commission as well, incorporated the State Religious Affairs Bureau and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council and manages those institutions in a unified manner. (These two entities were practically abolished.)
The plan also aims to strengthen leadership power and the governing system by transferring responsibilities which used to be distributed to each department to the CPC Central Committee. The responsibilities of the Work Committee for Organizations Directly under the Central Committee and the Work Committee for Central Government Organizations were combined, and the new Work Committee for Central and Government Organizations was established. Also, the Central Foreign Affairs Commission and its administrative office incorporated the Central Leadership Group for Maritime Rights Protection. The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission absorbed and incorporated the Central Committee for Comprehensive Management of Social Security and its administrative office as well as the Central Stability Preservation Work Leadership Group and its administrative office. Moreover, three institutions—the Central Party History Research Center, the Central Literature Research Center and the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau—were combined, and the new Central Institute for Party History and Literature Research was established.
The second feature is the extensiveness of the reforms.
Since political reforms and an open economy began in 1978, four Party institutional reforms and seven state institutional reforms have been implemented.  However, the reforms being currently initiated are the most extensive reforms in history in the following two regards:
1. The Party and state institutional reforms are implemented concurrently. China initiated reforms in 1982 and 1993, but the focus was on government-party structures and the streamlining of state administration. In comparison, the current institutional reforms have a solid goal of strengthening the Party’s leadership by transferring part of the responsibilities and power from state institutions to the Party. Therefore, large-scale reforms including integration, establishment and abolishment were required to either be implemented by both Party and state institutions together or by either one singularly. Looking at the institutions of the State Council, seven institutions were newly established, six institutions were abolished and four institutions (including the National Audit Office) were reorganized. Furthermore, the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment was to “achieve an overall moderately prosperous ‘five-in-one’  society,” which Xi Jinping has been emphasizing, by reforming the political system. The establishment of the Ministry of Emergency Management and the Ministry of Veterans Affairs is an action to ensure social stability by securing strong leadership by the Party. In addition, the State International Development Cooperation Agency, an institution directly under the State Council is a prime example of an institution which implements the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping’s main diplomatic focus.
2. The targets of the state institutional reform are the “state institutions in a broad sense.” In principle, the term “state” in previous state institutional reform means the “state institutions in a narrow sense”—those within the State Council. However, with the current reform, the targets are the “state institutions in a broad sense” including the institutions of the National People’s Congress, the State Council, the Chinese People’s Political Consultation Conference (“PCC”), the administrative penal enforcement system, reorganization of the People’s Armed Police (“military and civilian institutions”) , people’s organizations and local institutions. Democratic countries would never include institutions such as the PCC or people’s organizations—which cannot be state institutions—in their goals for institutional reform, but this is the ultimate characteristic of Chinese socialism. We can see evidence of Xi’s strong will as he is implementing the current reforms.
Before implementing the current institutional reforms, the CPC Central Committee is making efforts to show the entire image of the reforms through written materials similar to the ones I used as reference materials for this essay. However, there are still two questions I cannot work out. Both are questions concerning the system in which a single political party leads a state—the Party-State system.
The first question is in regard to the position of the newly established National Supervisory Commission. Is it a state institution or a Party institution?
Generally, the National Supervisory Commission is understood to be a state institution. The reason is that the Constitution amended at the National People’s Congress in March newly added it as the “Supervisory Commission” in Section 7 of Chapter III “The Structure of the State.” It also states that all “supervisory… organizations of the State are created by the People’s Congress, to which they are responsible and by which they are overseen” (Article 3, Paragraph 3) and “The National People’s Congress exercises the following functions and powers: … (7) to elect the Chairperson of the National Supervisory Commission” (Article 62). The Supervision Act was adopted. The Commissions are ruled by the Constitution and the National People’s Congress, so it is definitely a state institution. The plan, which is a Party document, states, “The National Supervisory Commission is created by the National People’s Congress... The National Supervisory Commission is responsible to the National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee and accepts their supervision.”
On the other hand, the plan also positioned the National Supervisory Commission as a part of the CPC Central Committee. Xi Jinping himself stated at a collective meeting of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau, “The purpose of listing the establishment of the National Supervisory Committee in the first article of the he CPC Central Committee’s reform plan was to build a system for the Party to exercise unified leadership with comprehensive coverage and highly authoritative and efficient supervision.”The National Supervisory Committee was established by the transfer of all the responsibilities of the Ministry of Supervision and the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention, the institutions used to be part of the State Council (both are now abolished), and the transfer of responsibilities related to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. Therefore, the purpose of this change should be to strengthen the Party’s leadership by transferring the authority of the State Council to the CPC Central Committee. However, the National Supervisory Committee is now defined as the institution which was incorporated into the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (“a joint office” or “a set of working institutions, the name of one agency”). This means the former, a state institution, is now governed by the latter, an institution of the CPC Central Committee. The fact that Yang Xiaodu, the head of the National Supervisory Committee, is also the deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is evidence of these institutions being in a leader-follower relationship.
For me, the positioning of the National Supervisory Committee is extremely unclear. Therefore, when I visited Beijing immediately after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited China, I asked this question to a researcher who has been deeply involved in the introduction of the national supervisory system. A summary of his answer is as follows: (1) The National Supervisory Committee should be a state institution but the reason why the establishment of the Committee is treated as a part of the CPC Central Committee’s reform is that the Party needs to clarify “where the final decision is for the matters related to the reform.” (2) Some employees of the Supervisory Committee were relocated from the Commission for Discipline Inspection, so they still belong to the Commission for Discipline Inspection and their salaries are paid by the Party. (3) With the establishment of the National Supervisory Committee, the goal of the supervision of the National People’s Congress became “one government (府= State Council), one committee (委=the National Supervisory Committee) and two courts (院=Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate).” Additionally, at the annually held National People’s Congress, the National Supervisory Committee must present an activity report, the same for the State Council, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. However, this system has not yet been designed. To present an activity report at the National People’s Congress automatically signifies that the entity is supervised by the National People’s Congress, so there is strong antipathy from the Party.
The second question is the significance of changing “Leadership Groups” to “Committees” of the CPC Central Committee.
As mentioned before, both Leadership Groups and Committees are the decision-making bodies. Everyone knows of their existence, but they are mysterious institutions where the disclosure of information such as membership structures and activities is insufficient. However, recent studies have found that there were some differences in their status even though they are all called “Central Leadership Groups.” For example, whether they are under the control of the Central Politburo or the Central Committee, whether or not they are granted authority to participate in important policy making, whether they are institutions within the Party or institutions both in the Party and the government, and whether they are established permanently or temporarily differ greatly amongst them.  Moreover, it has been reported that quite a few leadership groups, including this year’s Central Leadership Group for Educational Work, were established under Xi Jinping’s government, and Xi became the leader of most of them. Through these news reports we became aware that these leadership groups were in the highest political position and understood that Xi gained overwhelming authority in China. 
On the other hand, the status of the Commissions of the CPC Central Committee is even more unclear than the leadership groups. However, considering that the ultimate goal of the institutional reforms is to strengthen the Party’s leadership, the Commissions must have more important roles than the Leadership Groups. The importance of the Commissions will become clear when the Commissions become “permanent institutions with administrative offices which employ a certain number of permanent staff members.” The arrangement of placing the Commission Administrative Offices within the institutions of the State Council will make it much easier to reconcile differences of opinion between the Party and the government. This is particularly important for the Party because it can strengthen its leadership by forcing the government to create policy drafts according to the will of the Party.
It has been nine months since the institutional reforms began. Reforms in the main body of the central government are expected to be completed within the year.
It is difficult to know exactly where the reform of the CPC Central Committee is because information about activities within the Party is often not shared. On the other hand, because the newly established institutions of the State Council—the core of the state institutional reform—are sharing information with the public by setting up an individual website, etc., the progress of the reform can be viewed to a certain degree. As I mentioned above, I am particularly interested in the movements of the Ministry of Emergency Management, the Ministry of Veterans Affairs and the State International Development Cooperation Agency. I continually check any news concerning them. Although these institutions have been actively operating  , they have also had issues they will need to resolve in the near future.
The Ministry of Emergency Management was newly established for the purpose of improving the ability to respond to major accidents and natural disasters. It is one of the “patchwork” institutions which integrates all or a portion of responsibilities from thirteen other departments—which is the largest integration to occur in the current reform. Checking the ministry’s website and looking at which ministries the eleven members of the management were from, five (Minister Wang Yupu, Vice Ministers Fu Jianhua, Sun Huashan and Huan Yuzhi and Party Group Member Wang Haosui) were from the National Security Supervision and Administration Bureau, one (Vice Minister/Party Group Secretary Huang Ming) from the Ministry of Public Security, one (Vice Minister Zheng Guoguang) from the Earthquake Administration, one (Vice Minister Ye Jianchun) from the Ministry of Water Resources ( and he is also Vice Minister of the current Ministry of Water Resources), one (Head of Vice Ministers Shang Yong) from the Food and Drug Administration, one (Party Group Member Xu Erfeng) from the Public Security Agency and one (Party Group Member Ai Juntao) from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.Although Ming is the top of the Party Group of the Ministry, he is just one of seven members in the ministry’s management team. It will be interesting to see if this Vice Minister from the Ministry of Public Security is able to lead the remaining ten members of the ministry without confusion. The maximum number of Vice Ministers of the Ministry of Emergency Management was four, so it has exceeded that already.
The Minister and the Party Group Secretary of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, Sun Shaozhen, is from the Ministry of Civil Affairs (Vice Minister until May 2017). One of the two Vice Ministers, Qian Feng, is from a legal background (Deputy Chief of the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council until March 2018) and the other, Feng Yongxiang is from the People’s Liberation Army. (He is also the chief assistant of the Political Work Department of the Central Military Commission). Looking at the State International Development Cooperation Agency in a similar way, Chairperson Wang Xiaotao is from the National Development and Reform Commission, one of two Deputy Chairpersons, Zhou Liujun, is from the Ministry of Commerce and the other, Deng Boqing, is from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All three are from departments which can support the “Belt and Road” Initiative from the administrative side. This is due to relevant departments striving to exhibit their best features for the new institutions. Neither the Ministry of Veterans Affairs nor the State International Development Cooperation Agency has yet to disclose its responsibilities for each section of the department on their websites. This fact shows that the details of the responsibilities of these institutions as central government institutions have not yet been determined due to positive or passive conflicts over authority and that administrative work have not been operating effectively. As many past institutional reforms, the current reforms have been led by the General Secretary himself. In July 2017, before the 19th National Congress of the Party, Xi Jinping instructed that review work for the reforms be performed by the Central Leadership Group on Comprehensively Deepening Reforms (upgraded to the Central Commission for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms), which is led by him. He also became the leader of the reform-related document draft group which was established after the National Congress. The current ongoing reforms are specifically institutional reforms for Xi.
Xi Jinping would never want his power base to become shaky as a result of fierce U.S.-China tensions. He will try to avoid that at all costs. We must continue to watch and see whether or not these comprehensive institutional reforms of the Party and state will strengthen the authorities of Xi and the Party.
（Dated Dec 19, 2018）
1中共中央印発≪深化党和国家機構改革方案≫, 人民日報, March 22, 2018. Unless separately specified, I also referred to 習近平：関於深化党和国家機構改革決定稿和方案稿的説明,
[http://www.aisixiang.com/data/109407.html](last accessed on December 11, 2018), 中共中央関於深化党和国家機構改革的決定, People’s Daily, March 5, 2018, 国務院機構改革方案 (People’s Daily, March 18, 2018) and 又踏層峰望眼開≪中共中央関於深化党和国家機構改革的決定≫和≪深化党和国家機構改革方案≫誕生記 (People’s Daily, March 23, 2018).
2The term “Commission” here signifies the Central National Security Commission, for example. Commission here should mean those which belong to the Party. Therefore it excludes commissions from the State Council, such as the National Development and Reform Commission.
3As a result, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television became the National Radio and Television Administration which only manages television and radio broadcasting.
5「中央党政機関機構改革第一階段総結和下一階段打算, 中共中央組織部弁公庁編 『改革開放以来組織工作文件選編1978-1989』: Party Building Books Publishing House (党建读物出版社) 2009, 205-211. 関於党政機構改革的方案」中共中央組織部幹部調配局編『幹部管理工作文件選編, Party Building Books Publishing House, 1995, 101-117.
7The belief that the integration of five elements of the “economic, political, cultural, social and ecological progress” is required to build socialism with Chinese characteristics.
8This includes the removal of the Border Control Administration and the Fire Department of the Ministry of Public Safety from the People’s Armed Police Force. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, Japanese media is most interested in the strengthening of the authority of the Central Military Commission—transferring the coast guard institution from the management of the State Oceanic Administration (abolished) to the People’s Armed Police which is under the centralized and unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee and the Central Military Commission—which also belongs in this category.
9習近平在中共中央政治局第十一次集体学習時強調, 持続深化国家監察体制改革, 推進反腐敗工作法治化規範化, People’s Daily (人民日報), December 15, 2018.
10The State Council is the only institution which is required to report its activities to the National People’s Congress under the Constitution (Article 92).
11Wang, Zhou. 中国 “小組機制” 研究, Tianjing People’s Publishing House (天津人民出版社), 2010.Kamo, Tomoki and Lim Jaehwan. Change of Leadership Groups—Multilayered Semi-Official Functions in China’s Policy Decisions, Political System of Modern China—Politics and Communist Party Control (by Shinji Yamaguchi), Keio University Press, 2018, 103-129.
12Suwa, Kazuyuki. Beginning of the Long-Term Administration of Xi Jinping—Party’s Absolute Leadership System and Small Weaknesses, Intelligence Report, Policy Research Institute, January Edition, 2018, 4-17).
13This is not the CPC Central Committee. It also does not include the newly established Work Committee for Central and Government Organizations because it is considered an “agency” which has no special leadership authority.