On the Road to the Third Plenum: An Interview with Dr. Alice Miller
As a trained historian and former CIA analyst, Dr. Alice Miller, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Political Science professor at Stanford University, provides a unique and critical perspective among the political science and economic minds that dominate the China foreign policy and security academy.
Dr. Miller recently wrote about Xi Jinping’s ‘Mass Line’ campaign, which is aimed at rooting out government corruption and garnering public support for the new leadership. Dr. Miller was at UCSD for the UC-Institute on Global Cooperation and Conflict (IGCC) “Chinese Science and Technology: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” conference in October, so we sat down to discuss her paper, “The Road to the Third Plenum”, and the basis and implementation of the campaign leading up to the Third Plenum. (NOTE: For everybody wondering what this Third Plenum meeting is, I recommend you read IR/PS Professor Barry Naughton’s recent piece, “What the Heck is China’s ‘Third Plenum’ and Why Should You Care?” over at ChinaFile.)
In the interview—available here (author’s note: please excuse my few laughing interjections)— Dr. Miller explains that while people have begun to describe Xi Jinping’s leadership as “using Maoist techniques to enhance his power and achieve his goals,” the two leaders actually use drastically different implementation mechanisms. In particular, the ‘Mass Line’ campaign, while using “post-Mao and Deng [Xiaoping] era means”, actually represents a continuation of the “procedures and mechanisms… that previous intraparty campaigns have been using back into the nineties.” Crying revolution doesn’t make you revolutionary.
Dr. Miller suggests that “inviting the masses to criticize party leaders as Mao… [did] in the Cultural Revolution is just the last thing this party leadership wants to do”, as they are trying to control and maintain their leadership within a difficult environment and create policies that focus on the basic challenges of the country. So, as a means to fix confront obstacles within the political system, the anti-corruption aspects of the campaign “are ways to try to break resistance within the party through a series of reforms that they have been suggesting… will be significant at the Third Plenum.”
As the first substantive Plenum after a Party Congress, the Third Plenum will take up major issues regarding the economy. Dr. Miller notes that the ambiguity surrounding the potential reforms to be announced at this year’s Third Plenum makes it difficult to predict what will really emerge. She believes that the extent of this year’s plan will be similar to the Third Plenum of the 14th Central Committee in 1993, which set forth a 50-point reform agenda. I guffawed at this, but Dr. Miller explained that this proved to be “the authorization for a sweeping series of reforms” that, after a brief—you know, only about three years—inflation problem, initiated a major transformation of state owned enterprises. We might hear a long laundry list of potential reforms in the coming days, including “financial reforms…, changing the hukou registration system, trying to extend marketization of key sectors in the economy, making administrative changes that will provide incentives for officials not just simply to take into account high speed growth but the impact of the economic policies they endorse”. Ultimately, though, the key for observers will be staying patient to see what actually gets done. Because, as Dr. Miller notes, “you can’t be impatient, they’re realists and they’ll… trim their sales and adjust when things begin to go.”