Chinese President Xi Jinping has criticized the country’s vast bureaucracy over the lack of initiatives and waiting for his instructions before acting. President Xi, 68, arguably China’s most powerful leader after Mao Zedong, the founder of Communist Party of China (CPC), had expressed frustration over the lack of initiative among officials at an internal meeting in January and complained that too many waited for instructions from the top before acting. As per local media report, Xi told a plenary meeting of the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection – CPC’s top-anti corruption body – “Some only get moving when they receive written edicts issued by the leadership and they would do nothing without such instructions.” It was the first time his remarks at an internal meeting had been made public in a book published by the ruling Communist Party’s Central Party Literature Press last month. “My written instructions are the last line of defense. If I did not hand out instructions, would these officials do any work?” said Xi. He complained in the January meeting that some officials were good at paying lip service but “don’t walk the talk”.
His outburst is contrary to his defense of China’s one-party system and top-down approach for successful implementation of policies in comparison to the countries under democracies. Analysts noted that the written orders had become an increasingly important part of the leadership’s top-down monitoring in recent years and suggested this had made officials more risk-averse. This is the conundrum faced by the party as China’s governing system has become increasingly centralized. The book, titled Xi Jinping’s Selected Remarks On Comprehensively Governing The Party Strictly (2021 version), also showed that Xi has pushed back against criticism of his tight grip over the party.
Xi has the reigns of all the three major pillars of Chinese polity; the Communist Party, the Presidency and the Central Military Commission, and unlike his predecessors, he has the prospect of lifelong tenure following the constitutional amendment doing away with two five-year-term limit for the President. In the January 2018 comments, made two months before the National People’s Congress lifted the two-term limit of the Chinese presidency, Xi stressed that strict governance of the party’s rank and file must continue.
Observers say that the anti-graft crackdown of Xi after becoming President in 2012, the bureaucracy has shown signs of slowdown, often requiring the leadership to push hard for the implementation of the policies and projects. The crackdown also helped him to quickly consolidate his power. Xi’s reliance on written instructions to govern and his tight grip on the bureaucracy have led Chinese officials to become less inclined to take risks. “Xi and his colleagues give lots of written instructions and it’s natural for people to wait for them. With the anti-corruption fight and political indoctrination, Xi has successfully placed the entire party under his control but that has also made everyone very cautious too,” the report said.
State media and officials are often keen to emphasize Xi’s personal involvement in key policies, such as the decision to build artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea and China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last three years, almost every important policy readout, including the introduction of a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong, or meetings on Xinjiang has referred to Xi.