Fourth Plenum of the 19th CPC Central Committee: An Assessment

 By Dr. Amrita Jash

The Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) concluded the fourth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee as held in Beijing from 28-31 October 2019.[1] The covert meeting was attended by 202 CPC Central Committee members and 169 CPC Central Committee alternate members, wherein Xi Jinping,  General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, delivered the work report. The Communique as released on 31 October, stated that:

“The system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is a scientific system developed by the Party and the people through their long-term practices and explorations”. And that as “proven by practice, the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and China’s system for governance are systems of strong vitality and huge strength”.[2]

 Despite being delayed in its timeline, which is attributed to the internal political tensions within the Party, what made the Fourth Plenum significant is the timing given the profound challenges faced by China. Wherein, the three key challenges are: First, China’s economic slowdown, to which economists have cut their forecasts for GDP growth in 2020 to below 6 per cent;[3] Second, spiralling tensions over the US-China trade war, wherein, the total US imposed tariffs on Chinese goods sums at US$ 550 and total Chinese tariffs on US goods is US$ 185 billion[4]– one of the key factors that significantly affects Beijing’s economic interests and; Finally, the most pressing concern of the Hong Kong crisis that has put China’s internal stability to an unrest. In view of this, the Fourth Plenum under the presidency of Xi Jinping called for great attention given the increasing risks and challenges at home and abroad.

The objective of the Plenum as stated in the official announcement in August 2019, aimed at discussing important issues on three key aspects: first, how to uphold and improve the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics; second, how to make progress in modernising China’s system and capacity for governance and; third, how the Party should formulate and review its internal regulations and clarify the responsibilities for their implementation[5]– which have been stated to be revised and adopted during the session. The Plenum set forth the trajectory of China’s political path by outlining the key tasks to be undertaken by the CPC, of which, the most important are: First, to push forward the modernisation of China’s system and capacity for governance. In  doing so, three key goals to be achieved are: by 2021, institutions in all fields will have “improved notably”; by 2035, modernisation of China’s system and governance capacity will be “basically achieved” and; by 2049, modernisation of China’s system and governance capacity will be “realised in full”.[6]

Second, adhere to and strictly reinforce the principle of “One Country, Two systems” policy as a fundamental and significant measure to ensure national peace and unity. To which, two principle policies to be adopted, as the Communique suggests: First, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Macao Special Administrative Region must be governed in strict accordance with the Constitution and the Basic Law.[7] To do so, it stressed the need to “maintaining lasting prosperity and stability in Hong Kong and Macao”.[8] Second, in relation to Taiwan, process of peaceful national reunification to be advanced and cross-Strait relations to be promoted. This is to be done by working with Taiwan compatriots in stepping up economic, cultural and people-to-people exchanges between Taipei and Beijing and firmly oppose any separatist activities by “Taiwan independence” separatist forces.[9]

Finally, upholding and improving in areas, as noted:[10] CPC’s leadership system; institutional system which ensures that the people run the country; the system of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics; the system of government administration with Chinese characteristics; the basic socialist economic system; the system of making advanced socialist culture thrive and prosper; the system of ensuring people’s livelihoods across rural and urban areas; the social governance system based on collaboration, participation and common interests; the system of ecological civilisation; the absolute leadership of the CPC over the military; the independent foreign policy of peace and; Party and state oversight systems.

What makes it imperative for Chinese leadership to adhere to these objectives in its future political trajectory?  As the Communique suggests that “these notable strengths are the fundamental basis for fostering stronger confidence in the path, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics”[11]– given the primary task of the Party lies in sustaining and improving socialism with Chinese characteristics, which acts as the bed rock of China’s national strategy.

The Fourth Plenum, unlike the Third Plenum that called for a major policy of abolition of the two term limit of the Presidency from China’s Constitution, did not make major political strides. However, it still holds significance in reaffirming certain aspects of China’s current political system, which are often under speculation. First, At the foremost, it dispelled the speculations of an internal political crisis faced by Xi by affirming that Xi still remains ‘all-powerful’ in China’s political system. Second, the infinite rule of Xi still remains sacrosanct. Third, the Party is at the apex and maintains supreme legitimacy- affirming that China’s One-Party rule is here to stay despite rising speculations. And finally, Beijing under Xi remains undeterred in its political aspiration of ‘reunification of China’; thus, fulfilling the China Dream still remains high on Beijing’s political agenda.  Hence, if not anything major, the Fourth Plenum significantly reflects and adds to the continuity in China’s political tradition as practiced since the era of Mao Zedong.


End Notes:

[1] In Chinese political system, plenums are the general meetings of the Central Committee of the CPC, which plays the role of top executive body in China when the National Party Congress (NPC) is not in session. The mandate of NPCs lasts for five years, and the current NPC called the Nineteenth Party Congress, is in charge for the 2017-2022 period. As scheduled under China’s political tradition, seven plenums are held in five years, with at least one plenum held each year. Of which, under the 19th Party Congress, the first plenum was held in October 2017 and the second and third plenums were held in January and February 2019 respectively.

[2] Quoted by Huaxia, “19th CPC Central Committee concludes fourth plenary session, releases communique”, Xinhuanet, 31 October 2019,, accessed online 04 November 2019.

[3] “China Seen Heading for Sub-6% Economic Growth as Tariffs Soar”, Bloomberg News, 03 September 2019,, accessed online 05 November 2019.

[4] Dorcas Wong and Alexander Chipman Koty, “The US-China Trade War: A Timeline”, China Briefing, 04 November 2019,, accessed online 05 November 2019.

[5] Huaxia, “Xi Focus: 19th CPC Central Committee to hold fourth plenary session in October”, Xinhuanet, 30 August 2019,, accessed online 04 November 2019.

[6] “19th CPC Central Committee concludes 4th plenary session, releases communique”, CGTN, 31 October 2019,, accessed on 04 October 2019.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Huaxia, “Xi Focus”, no. 5.

[9] “19th CPC Central Committee”, no. 6.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Huaxia, “Xi Focus”, no. 5.

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Dr. Amrita Jash is Research Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi. She co-edited the book on COVID-19 & Its Challenges: Is India Future Ready? with Lt Gen (Dr.) VK Ahluwalia (Pentagon Press, 2020). She holds a Ph.D in Chinese Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is the Managing Editor of the CLAWS Journal(KW Publishers).Dr. Jash is a Pavate Fellow and has been a Visiting Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge. She has been an Adjunct Faculty at the School of Global Affairs-Ambedkar University and a Visiting Faculty at the Department of Chinese-Sikkim Central University; a UGC Graduate Fellow (2012-2017); a US-INDIA-CHINA InitiativeFellow SAIS-Johns Hopkins University(2013); a researcher under China’s Ministry of Commerce(2014); a researcher under Harvard-Yenching-Nanching Programme (2015). In 2019, COAS Gen Bipin Rawat awarded her for contributing to the field of Chinese Studies.Dr. Jash’s research has appeared in 13 edited books, Peer-Reviewed Journals such as East Asian Policy, Review of Global Politics, Strategic Analysis, Yonsei Journal, China Report, Maritime Affairs and Strategic Vision. She has published with CSIS, RUSI, RSIS, Pacific Forum, ThinkChina, Huffington Post, E-IR, Asia Times, Munk School, Crawford School, ISDP, China-India Brief, SADF, and others. Her expertise are: China’s foreign policy, strategic and security issues; the PLA, India-China relations, China-Japan relations, and Indo-Pacific.