What will happen to Hong Kong in 2017


Sebastian Heilmann

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Heilmann holds the chair for Government Studies: Politics and Economics of China at the University of Trier. From September 2013 to August 2018 Heilmann acted as founding director of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin. His main research interests are: Political system and economic reforms in the People's Republic of China, especially industrial and technology policy in China; state development planning in an international comparison and from a historical perspective; Policy experimentation (policy innovation through experimental and pilot programs) in an international comparison as well as economic policy / regulation.

Matthias Stepan

Matthias Stepan heads the China Domestic Policy program at MERICS. His research focuses on governance in multilevel systems, the distribution of roles between state, party and society in policy-making in China, and the change in social security systems.

Claudia Wessling

Claudia Wessling heads the publications department at MERICS. The sinologist and science journalist deals not only with topics related to China and Asia, but also primarily with the areas of digitization, computer technology and mathematics.

Mareike Ohlberg

Dr. Mareike Ohlberg is a research assistant at MERICS. Her main research interests are Chinese ideology and media politics, China's digital transformation, and developments in Hong Kong and Taiwan

The Communist Party and its functionaries dominate political life at all levels of the highly centralized "party state". Political opposition movements are suppressed and their representatives are prosecuted. Meanwhile, the power of President Xi Jinping, which goes hand in hand with a heightened personality cult, has reached a new peak.

The largest hall in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in Beijing can hold more than 10,000 people. It is the venue for the CCP party congresses and the National People's Congress, the annual parliamentary session. Beginning of the 19th party congress on October 18, 2017 (& copy Reuters / Thomas Peter)

Characteristics of the political system

Sebastian Heilmann

The rise of China to a global economic power causes astonishment and alarm in the West to this day. How could a country ruled by a Communist Party and largely characterized by bitter poverty modernize itself within decades to such an extent that it can seriously compete with the market-based democracies of the West and is likely to replace the USA as the most important economy in the world in the next decade?

How do the political system and state activity contribute to China's economic transformation? And is China's political system capable of adapting to changed economic, technological, social and international conditions?

The political system of the People's Republic of China (& copy Bergmoser + Höller Verlag AG, figure 878 430)
Almost 40 years after the reform and opening-up policy began, the Chinese government rejects "Western democracy" as a model of order that is unsuitable for China and other developing and emerging countries. Current shocks to democratic governance in the USA, Great Britain and many EU countries are cited as evidence that traditional Western democracies are not up to the challenges of the 21st century and are increasingly losing acceptance even in Western societies. China must follow its own path of political and social development. Only the organizational guidance from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can guarantee the success of this development path.

With this justification, the CCP continues to maintain its monopoly of power, does not allow independent political control bodies or political competition, and suppresses organized oppositional activities. The PRC is therefore clearly a non-liberal, authoritarian system of government. Since 2012, under party and state leader Xi Jinping, restrictive and repressive practices of rule have been more evident than under his predecessors.

From a Western perspective, the possibilities of the Internet and the advance of social media were initially seen as an opportunity for China's society to obtain alternatives to the Chinese leadership's monopoly on information. In the meantime, it has been shown that the Communist Party is using the new technologies systematically as control and monitoring instruments that are to be continuously developed. The authoritarian control structures of the government system are increasingly merging with the centralized processing of extremely large and heterogeneous amounts of data (big data), which allow a detailed recording of individual activities and preferences in society and markets. In China, under the guidance of the CCP, an IT-based authoritarianism is developing that has the potential to become a model for other authoritarian states in the world as well. Because the control technologies for cyberspace developed in China can also be used effectively in other political contexts.

The constitution of a party state

The CCP permeates the state at all levels: As a state party that does not compete with other parties and cannot be replaced by them, the CCP almost without exception provides the personnel for leadership positions in government and administrative bodies. In addition, the government organs must follow the guidelines of party committees in their decisions, which are superordinate to government agencies.

The core elements of the state structure of the People's Republic of China still follow the model of the former Soviet Union: The political leadership role of the Communist Party, extensive powers of intervention of the central government over regional leaderships, the concentration of powers - i.e. the express rejection of political power limitation through the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches and the subordination of individual rights to collective interests defined by the CCP are essential principles of the Chinese constitutional order to this day.

So far, four constitutions (1954, 1975, 1978, 1982) have been adopted that reflect the changing political goals of the CCP. The currently valid constitution of 1982 (individual elements changed several times, most recently in 2018) reflects efforts to "socialist modernization" of the economic system and to stabilize state institutions.

In 2018, added Art. 1 of the current constitution, it says: "The PRC is a socialist state under the democratic dictatorship of the people, which is led by the working class and is based on the alliance of workers and peasants the Chinese Communist Party is the central feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Sabotage of the socialist system is forbidden to any organization or individual. "

The structure of China's political institutions has not been affected by any of the previous constitutional amendments. In fact, the CCP is above the constitution and above the people: the party, not the people, is the sovereign in the state. The state constitution therefore has only limited weight for the practice of political decision-making, conflict management and decision-making. First and foremost, the PRC Constitution is a political document. There are no judicial bodies such as a constitutional court to enforce the constitutionally guaranteed rights.