A new compact to foster a fairer society in China

A new compact to foster a fairer society in China
Farmers harvesting a rice crop in Gangzhong village in China's eastern Zhejiang province. Deepening tax reforms to advance ''societal fairness'' and ensuring farmers get fair compensation for their land are among the policy measures in the CCP's 22,000-word plenum report released last week.

It may not be as significant as the epochal 1978 event that transformed communist China and put it on a path to becoming the world's No. 2 economy but the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) recent policy summit might still claim a spot in history.

The Third Plenary Session of the party's current Central Committee has notched several key outcomes: producing the most comprehensive slate of reforms by a new leadership in the history of third plenums, and signalling the emergence of President Xi Jinping as China's strongest supremo in at least a decade.

Most of all, the Third Plenum, as it is called, could prove to be the start of the CCP's efforts to forge a new compact with the people - one that goes beyond the provision of economic growth and social stability to fostering a fairer and more just society.

The words fairness and justice (gongping and zhengyi in Chinese) appeared no fewer than 20 times in the 22,000-word report released last Friday that detailed the 60 "decisions" of the plenum spanning the usual economic and social realms, and new areas such as cyberspace, defence, national security and the environment.

In contrast, these words appeared seven times in the 11,500-word plenum report in 2003, and three times in the 15,800-word report in 2008.

Appearing 20 times in a report of more than 20,000 words may strike some as negligible but Professor Xu Yaotong of the Chinese Academy of Governance said it reflects "a clear intent in meeting the people's growing desire for fairness and justice".

"It is also the spirit of the reform pledges," he told The Straits Times. "Instead of outlining vague policy directions, the specific measures aimed at promoting fairness and justice show a resolve in building a new type of relationship with the people."

These measures include promoting fairer competition between state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and private firms; deepening tax reforms to advance "societal fairness"; ensuring that farmers get fair compensation for their land; and beefing up the judiciary so that citizens can better enjoy "gongping zhengyi".

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