China’s “Two Sessions”: Lessons in consensus-building and political inclusion

China’s routine consultative and inclusive national democratic political process assumes color and even pageantry, when the country’s top advisory and legislative chambers converge in full session at the country’s capital every year to consider the work of its standing committees or permanent organs and the work report of the government or the state council.

The “two sessions” comprise of the full sessions of the top advisory body called “Chinese People’s political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the China’s Supreme State Organ and Legislative body, the “National People’s Congress (NPC). The work of the two bodies is carried out on routine basis through standing committees or permanent organs elected by the general session of the two representative institutions.

The significance of the two broadly representative institutions were in the historic choice made by the Chinese people to build the widest coalition and alliances of people of all walks of life and groups with diverse faith, views, affiliations and interest in united front with the Communist party of China at the core and a determination to construct national consensus. The platform of the two institutions not only affords the Chinese people the opportunity to forge strong solidarity, ideologically and politically but also organizationally. And if building coalitions and alliances is the core of democratic politics, the Communist Party of China phenomenally saw early enough its historic ambience and integrated it in their then, emerging national political culture in which “the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation led by the Communist party of China (CPC) will exist and develop in China for a long time to come”.

The Chinese people political consultative conference (CPPCC) as an organizational platform of the Chinese people’s patriotic united front is the culmination of the joint endeavor of the Communist party of China together with all other political parties, people’s organizations and patriotic personages with no party affiliation from across all ethnic groups and walks of life and a symbol of the unity and alliance in the Chinese people.

The experience of China’s revolutionary struggle for national liberation objectively generated the historic imperative for a united front broadly rallying people in concerted efforts to build consensus on vital and strategic national issues. This unique nature of the Communist party of China (CPC) in rallying the country’s broad human assets, across all divides through institutionalized process of consultation, coordination and cooperation have yielded the fruit of national consensus on key and fundamental issues of both development goals and strategies. The system of multi-party cooperation and engagement of all social strata through the platform of inclusive institution does not vitiate the pluralism of diverse views and ideas but rather harness and harmonize them into policy agenda that feeds the consensus on national goals. China’s national political life and process is not rancorous because it forged a broad platform of political inclusion in which all critical segments of society who are vital stake holders are represented. The convocation of the full sessions of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC) are colorful political event but are far from a jamboree. The “two sessions” as they have become widely known are institutional framework for distilling the collective wisdom of the Chinese people into actionable policies and laws. The system of multi-party cooperation and elaborate consultations across all strata of society, characteristic of China’s inclusive political process is expressed in the broad and functional representation in the Chinese people political consultative conference (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC). Both institutions are historical realities earlier grasped by the Communist party of China(CPC) that no one political tendency, despite its sophistication could exclusively drive a political agenda of sustainable and inclusive development without the inputs of the broad section of the people. Through the institutional framework of CPPCC and NPC, diverse views and political tendencies have been accommodated. The absence of bitter partisan acrimony in China’s national political life is not because there is no opposing views and even clash of ideas but because the ambiance of the political space is wide enough and also because a consensus exist on the basic system and frame-work of the country’s political life.

This year’s “Two Session”, delayed because of the unfortunate outbreak of the coronavirus disease have however, taken off in the country’s capital Beijing. Some vital piece of legislation reflecting the reality and social context of the country would be addressed. The draft of the China’s civil code, a battery of civil and individual rights would feature as top legislative issue. The civil code draft law which would be first in the history of modern China is making its debut at a historical point where the country has attained the level of material condition and security to guarantee such rights not in the abstract but in the concrete condition of its accessibility and enjoyment by the people. It is a historical turning point in China’s overall development in which the rule of law would be in the statute book not for the sake of been there, but would be justiciable and accessible.

Along with the civil code, the “two sessions”, would give concrete expression to the determined effort to end poverty and fulfill the solemn pledge of the Communist party of China (CPC) to build a moderately prosperous society at the centenary anniversary of the founding of the party in 2021. Already people in poverty has fallen from 98.99 Million in 2012 to mere 5.15 Million in 2018 and despite the outbreak of Covid-19 and its disruptions, China is set to achieve end of poverty among its 1.4 billion people in a generation. Also featuring on top of the agenda of the of the China’s top advisory and legislative bodies is the enactment of national security legislation, to adequately improve the national security architecture and contain potential threats, most notable in the challenges of the Hong Kong special administrative region of China to explore the provisions of article 23 in the basic law. The high degree of autonomy exercised by the Hong Kong administrative region of China based on the “one country, two systems” under which the territory returned to China from British colonialism was Beijing’s accommodation to historical reality and not a concession to dual sovereignties. Under the frame work of “One country, two systems” Hong Kong has prospered even more but has become in recent time, the veritable epicenter for external interference in China’s internal affairs. The new national security legislation that would offer a buffer against threats to national security is the sovereign prerogative to the central authority of any formal State worth its name. The basic law of the Hong Kong region of China has the ambience of a wide political space for all political forces and their divergent views to contend and express themself. But the obvious red line is against any political faction to constitute itself into a surrogate for external interference and consequent threat to China’s national security. As any other legislative chamber in the world, the Chinese national parliament has opted to fulfill its duty to her people through legislation that curtails their exposure to the threat of instability and chaos.

As the “two sessions” are in progress, Africa, with its extensive engagement with China should pay more than casual attention. How a country of 1.4 billion people has forged a national consensus of development strategies and goals and pursued them with utmost focus that its results in a generation are very outstanding is fact worthy of serious reflection Africa. The bitter acrimony of multiparty competition and opposition politics in Africa has acted mostly to deny the countries in the region, the energy, consensus, focus and determination to articulate national goals and outline effective strategies to actualize it. Can the toxic opposition politics and bitter rivalry in Africa’s multi-party competition be renovated and transformed to consultations and cooperation taken into account the reality and historical context of the various national conditions of various individual African states?

If political opposition’s only literal meaning in Africa is a political enemy, can the Africa’s political landscape already dotted with several fault lines, afford the distraction of political enemy. The system of multi-party cooperation and consultations which have served China very well may have similar prospects, if productively examined within the social and political context of Africa’s realities without any attempt at a mechanical repetition of what China is doing or has done. After all, it is efforts at mechanical copying of western liberal political tradition without the similar enabling social condition that is at the root of serious political, economic and social problems in the continent.

Onunaiju is the director, Center for China Studies, Abuja.

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