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Making National Development Plans for High-Quality Economic and Social Development During the 14th Five-Year Plan Period

By National Development and Reform Commission Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2021-01-14

The Recommendations of the Central Committee of the Communist Party  of China for Formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035 were approved at the Fifth Plenary Session of the CPC 19th Central Committee, sounding a clarion call to embark on a new journey toward the Second Centenary Goal of building a modern socialist China. As a department tasked with macro-management and comprehensive coordination of the economy, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) must carefully formulate the 14th Five-Year Plan and leverage the strategic guiding role of national development plans to promote high-quality economic and social development and lay a solid foundation for a positive start to building China into a modern socialist country.

I. The importance of China’s five-year plans to the CPC’s governance

President Xi Jinping has pointed out that the preparation and implementation of five- year plans for national economic and social development are an important means by which the CPC governs China and a source of China’s political strength. Under the unified leadership of the CPC, the wisdom of the whole Party and country is directed to formulating medium- and long-term plans for economic and social development, in order to maintain policy continuity and stability and move toward an established goal, one task at a time, according to the blueprint. Since 1953, China has had 13 five-year plans, eight of which have come after the policy of reform and opening up was introduced in 1978. Those eight plans have focused on promoting economic and social development, enhancing China’s overall strength, and  improving people’s standard of living, producing a miracle of rapid economic development and long-term social stability that has rarely been seen in world history.

The implementation of five-year plans has helped China effectively resolve prominent challenges at different stages, and achieve long-term strategic goals in its socialist modernization. The first (1953-1957) to  fifth(1976-1980) five-year plans made important contributions to China’s establishment of a relatively complete industrial system and national economic system. After the policy of reform and opening up was introduced, the completion of the sixth (1981-1985) and seventh (1986-1990) five-year plans helped push China to become a world leader in the output of important industrial and agricultural products, basically solving food and clothing issues for its citizens. That period also saw China achieve the first step in its strategic goal of building a moderately prosperous society in general by doubling its GDP from the level in 1980 ahead of schedule. The eighth (1991-1995) and ninth (1996-2000) five-year plans were aimed at achieving the second step of that strategic goal. The Ninth Five-Year Plan, which was the first medium-to-long-term plan implemented under the conditions of a socialist market economy, proposed the “two fundamental transformations” (the economic system and the pattern of economic growth). The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001-2005) propelled China’s total economic output from eighth in the world to fourth and its output of major industrial and agricultural products to among the highest levels in the world. The 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) reflected major changes in China’s development philosophy, economic system, and government functions, and it propelled China’s total economic output to second in the world. The theme of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) was scientific development or in other words balanced and sustainable development, and its main proposal was to accelerate the transformation of the pattern of economic development. In those five years, China’s overall national strength and international influence greatly increased, and its total economic output ranked second in the world.


A birds-eye view of China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), nicknamed Tianyan or the “Eye of Heaven,” August 28, 2019 (photo taken during inspection). The telescope was officially opened for operation, January  11, 2020 after passing national inspections. During the 13th Five-Year Plan period, China made further progress with its innovative development strategy. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER OU DONGQU

Since the CPC 18th National Congress held in 2012, President Xi has been personally involved in designing, arranging, and promoting five-year planning work, highlighting its leading role in economic and social development. President Xi recognizes the importance of planning work, having served as the leader of the drafting committee for the 13th Five-Year Plan, which systematically proposed strategic tasks for the decisive stage of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. He also presided over the 14th meeting of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs in December 2016, which studied and arranged the implementation of the 13th Five-Year Plan. And he presided over a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau in October 2020 that studied a report on the implementation of the 13th Five-Year Plan. Of particular note, President Xi chaired over the fourth meeting of the Central Committee for Comprehensively Deepening Reform to review the Opinions on the Unified Planning System Better Utilizing the Strategic Guiding Role of National Development Planning in September 2018, which elevated successful practical experience in planning to the level of institutional arrangements so as to develop and improve the planning system.

Looking back, it is easy to see that China’s history of planning is a history of striving to create a glorious path for the People’s Republic and a history of developing a socialist system with Chinese characteristics. The five-year plans have overseen the continuous improvement and a qualitative leap in Chinese people’s living standards, from providing enough food and clothing, to creating a moderately prosperous society in general, and then a moderately prosperous society in all respects. They have also witnessed an unwavering commitment by the CPC to fulfill its founding mission. This history has eloquently shown that the institutional arrangement of using five-year plans to guide economic and social development conforms to China’s national conditions and demonstrates the advantages of our system. The success of the five-year plan system is only possible thanks to the strong leadership of the CPC. President Xi said it has been proven through practice that medium-to-long-term development plans not only exert the decisive role of the market in resource allocation but also better utilize the role of government. The formulation and implementation of five-year plans has become a distinctive feature of the development model of socialism with Chinese characteristics and an important window through which other countries around the world may take reference from China’s development experience. It should, therefore, be carried forward and developed in the future.

II. Completing the 13th Five-Year Plan, building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and laying a sound foundation for the 14th Five-Year Plan

The 13th Five-Year Plan period has been a decisive time for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. Confronted with a complex international situation and the arduous tasks in domestic reform, development and stability, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has united and led the entire Party, entire military, and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups in implementing the new development philosophy, furthering supply-side structural reforms, adhering to high-quality development, effectively resolving the problems of imbalanced and inadequate development, calmly dealing with the complexity of escalating external challenges, and resolutely responding to the severe impact of Covid-19. As a result, the main targets set in the 13th Five-Year Plan will be achieved on schedule, with major strategic tasks and 165 major projects fully completed, and China’s economic impact, scientific and technological capabilities, and overall national strength have reached new levels.

First, solid steps have been taken toward high-quality economic development. Our economic influence has greatly increased. China’s GDP is expected to exceed RMB 100 trillion this year, making our economy the primary driver of world economic growth, while per capita GDP has exceeded US$ 10,000, steadily moving us toward the ranks of high-income economies. Total retail sales of consumer goods stand at over RMB 40 trillion, and the advantage of the immense size of our market is increasingly apparent. The quality and efficiency of our economic development are steadily rising, the industrial structure is undergoing further optimization, and our capacity for innovation is continuously increasing.

Second, the success of our poverty alleviation efforts has attracted worldwide attention. Poverty alleviation initiatives in the areas of industry, employment, resettlement, ecology, education, health, and social security have all made progress. It is expected that, by the end of this year, all remaining people registered as living below the poverty line will be lifted out of poverty and poverty will be eliminated in every county. The problem of absolute poverty that has plagued the Chinese nation for thousands of years will finally become history, contributing to a more than 70% reduction in global poverty and creating a Chinese miracle in the history of human efforts to eradicate poverty.

Third, significant results have been achieved in the battle against pollution. Phased objectives for reducing pollution have been successfully completed, and ecological and environmental protection has undergone historic, pivotal, and sweeping changes. Air quality in key areas such as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region has improved markedly, and more than 90% of murky and malodorous water bodies in cities at and above the prefecture level have been cleaned up. The quality and stability of ecosystems are improving, and afforestation initiatives are being implemented methodically. Green development methods and lifestyles are gradually emerging, total energy consumption is being kept to below 5 billion  tons of standard coal, and efforts for building a water conserving country are in full swing.


A view of the scenery at Qiankun Bend on the Yellow River in Yanchuan County, Shaanxi Province, June 13, 2020. During the 13th Five-Year Plan period, the concept of environmental awareness struck deeper roots in the hearts of the people, while significant progress has been made toward building an eco-civilization. PEOPLE’S DAILY / PHOTO BY XUE JUN

Fourth, coordination of urban and rural regional development has improved significantly. High-quality regional strategies have been implemented, solid steps have been taken to coordinate development in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, phased objectives for coordinating environmental conservation and avoiding excessive development in the Yangtze River Economic Belt have been achieved, the “1+N” policy  framework for the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is gradually being established, integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta is taking shape, and ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River Basin have started. China’s new urbanization strategy is driving deeper, the goal of granting urban residency to 100 million people without local household registrations has been achieved, the plan to develop the Chengdu-Chongqing Economic Zone will soon be issued and implemented, and the work of shoring up the weaknesses of county towns is progressing steadily. The rural vitalization strategy has got off to a good start, with annual grain output remaining steady above 650 billion kilograms for five consecutive years.

Fifth, people are leading happier,  more satisfying, and more secure lives. Residents’ incomes have grown in step with the economy, and the middle-income group is constantly expanding. Access to basic public services among regions continues to be equalized, a social security system covering all urban and rural residents has largely been established, the goal of ensuring access to compulsory education is close to completion, higher education is at the stage of being made universal, and our basic medical and public health service systems have undergone further improvements. The caliber of our people and the level of civility in society have also improved significantly.


A local resident smiles as he looks at millet that is about to be harvested in Zhaozhuang Village, Xiangcheng County, Henan Province, September 12, 2020. During the 13th Five-Year Plan period, China’s annual grain production remained stable above 650 million tons for five consecutive years and supply capacity steadily increased, further consolidating the foundations of national food security. PEOPLE’S DAILY / PHOTO BY NIU SHUPEI

Sixth, major advances have been made in reform and opening up. There have been breakthroughs in reforms in important areas, laws on protecting property rights  have been improved, reforms to promote market-based allocation of factors of production and reforms of state-owned assets and state-owned enterprises have continued, and the negative list system for market access has been fully implemented. The reform of Party and state institutions has been successfully completed. The establishment of a new open economic system has been accelerated, development of the Belt and Road Initiative has continued, foreign investment access restrictions have been reduced from 93 in 2015 to 33, 21 free-trade pilot zones have been established, and the Hainan Free Trade Port is under development.

III. Applying the guidelines from the Fifth Plenary Session of the CPC 19th Central Committee to drafting the 14th Five-Year Plan, and embarking on building a modern socialist China

The 14th Five-Year Plan period will be the first five years following China’s achievement of the First Centenary Goal to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and we shall ride that momentum to embark on a new journey of building a modern socialist China and to advance toward the Second Centenary Goal. President Xi has shown great concern to the preparation of the 14th Five-Year Plan, presiding over several meetings to review issues in the drafting process and to issue requirements. He has held a series of special discussions with experts and entrepreneurs from different fields and community-level representatives to collect opinions. President Xi has also advocated a more open approach to formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan, so as to solicit opinions from the whole of society. The Fifth Plenary Session created a grand blueprint for China’s development over the next five years and set the course for the new journey of socialist modernization. The NDRC will thoroughly carry out the spirit of the Fifth Plenary Session of the CPC 19th Central Committee, implement the requirements of the Central Committee’s “Recommendations” when formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan and throughout the process of development and reform in all fields, and strive to formulate a high-quality plan that meets the wishes of the people, chimes with the times, and leads the way for our new journey toward building a modern socialist China.

Under the leadership of the State Council’s leadership group for producing the 14th Five-Year Plan, the NDRC will assume responsibility for drafting the plan, which will fully embody the guiding principles from the Fifth Plenary Session.

First, we will ensure that the guiding principles for economic and social development during the 14th Five-Year Plan period proposed by the Fifth Plenary Session of the CPC 19th Central Committee are fully reflected in the plan. Based on an accurate understanding of the opportunities and challenges in the new development stage, the Fifth Plenary Session proposed the guiding philosophy and principles to be followed for economic and social development during the 14th Five-Year Plan period. They represent the latest achievement of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. In the process of preparing the 14th Five-Year Plan, we must unequivocally uphold the leadership of our Party, adhere to a people-centered approach, practice the new development philosophy, continue with reform and opening up, maintain a systematic outlook, and coordinate economic, political, cultural, social, and environmental development. We must also coordinate and promote the construction of a modern socialist country, the furthering of reforms, governance of the country according to law, and strict governance of our Party. We must firmly implement the new development philosophy, namely development that is innovative, coordinated, green, open, and inclusive. We must maintain the general tone of seeking progress while maintaining stability in our work and make the promotion of high-quality development the theme, continuing supply-side structural reform the main task, reform and innovation the fundamental driving forces, and meeting our people’s growing desire for a better life the fundamental objective. We also need to coordinate development and security, accelerate the construction of a modern economic system and a new pattern of development centered on domestic economic flows in which domestic and international flows are mutually reinforcing, promote the modernization of our national governance system and capacity, and achieve long-term economic stability and social stability and harmony, so as to get off to a good start in our efforts to construct a modern socialist China.

Second, we will set the main targets for the 14th Five-Year Plan period through a rational approach. Based on the two-stage strategy set out at the CPC 19th National  Congress to achieve the Second Centenary Goal, and having taken into consideration the transformation of the main contradictions in society, domestic and international development trends, and China’s conditions for development, the Fifth Plenary Session of the CPC 19th Central Committee proposed the long-range objective of basically achieving socialist modernization by the year 2035. Furthermore, centered on new achievements in economic development, new steps in reform and opening up, new improvements in social civility, new progress in ecological conservation, and new improvements in living standards and public wellbeing as well as in national governance, the Fifth Plenary Session was able to propose the main goals for economic and social development during the 14th Five-Year Plan period, which are both goal- and problem-oriented and combine consistency and innovation. When drawing up the 14th Five-Year Plan, it is vital we focus on the main objectives formulated by the Fifth Plenary Session, study deeply the system of targets, and fully integrate the long-term goals for socialist modernization, the 13th Five-Year Plan targets, and the high-quality development targets. In view of the realities of China’s development, and taking into account internationally accepted standards, we will methodically select the most representative targets with a solid statistical basis to play a guiding role. When setting specific targets, we must seek truth from facts, balance doing our best with doing what is possible, and consider and try to balance needs and possibilities, so that we can paint a bright picture for our future development while creating positive expectations. In the meantime, we must proceed from objective reality, do not exceed our stage of development, take into account the uncertainties in our development environment, and leave sufficient room to maneuver.

Third, we will study and carefully define key tasks and important measures. Based on upholding the core position of innovation in China’s modernization drive, the Fifth Plenary Session of the CPC 19th Central Committee proposed a series of major tasks and measures, including accelerating the construction of a nation with strong science and technology; promoting a modern industrial system and the optimization and upgrading of the economic system; creating a strong domestic market and a new development paradigm; furthering reforms to construct a high-quality socialist market economy; prioritizing agricultural and rural development and promoting rural revitalization; optimizing the spatial layout of the country for regional coordinated development and new urbanization; developing cultural undertakings and cultural industries to improve our country’s cultural soft power; boosting green development to encourage the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature; extensively opening to the outside world to unlock new prospects for cooperation and mutual benefit; improving people’s quality of life and increasing social development; coordinating development and security to make China safer; and accelerating the modernization of national defense and the military to make China an   affluent country with a strong military. In the process of compiling the plan, it is necessary to focus on the most prominent shortcomings and the most urgent stage-based tasks during the five-year period. It is also necessary to transform the policy directions proposed in the “Recommendations” document into clear and operable key tasks and measures, as well as to promote speedy breakthroughs in key areas.

Fourth, we will plan major projects with strong foundations, broader functions, and long-term benefits. Major engineering projects are the most tangible component of planning, and they will play an important part in fulfilling the requirements of the Fifth Plenary Session and promoting implementation of the 14th Five-Year Plan. President Xi Jinping issued specific instructions concerning major projects in the 14th Five-Year Plan. During the drafting process, it is necessary to aim for the strategic heights of future competition with major powers and propose landmark projects that support high-quality development in key areas, such as technological innovation, industrial development, infrastructure, and national security, as well as to propose multi-faceted, interconnected projects that affect the vital interests of the public. It is necessary to focus on major, difficult, and urgent issues that require concentrated efforts to solve; on areas that require the government to play a role and have economic externalities; and on projects of paramount importance that have an overall impact and need to be promoted at the national level. We will persist with early planning and strict reviews, deepen research and demonstrations, ensure balance and coordination, improve estimates of resource requirements and safeguards, avoid unrealistic goals, and eschew projects that eat into future resources.

IV. Utilizing the strategic guidance of the 14th Five-Year Plan, improving implementation mechanisms, and putting into practice CPC Central Committee’s decisions

President Xi has repeatedly emphasized that the worth of any plan depends on its implementation. As such, we must uphold the centralized, unified leadership of the CPC over planning work and muster the enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity of all parties, in order to create a robust concerted force capable of implementing the plan and transforming an elegant blueprint into development results.

1. Improving the unified planning system 

In accordance with the requirements of the Decisions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council on the Unified Planning System Better Utilizing the Strategic Guiding Role of National Development Planning, we will accelerate the establishment of a “three-level and four-category” national planning system composed of national, provincial, city and county plans, with accurate methods, clear boundaries, complementary functions, and effective links, which is based on spatial plans but supported by special and regional plans.

First, it is necessary to strengthen the guiding role of the 14th Five-Year Plan. National spatial plans need to incorporate the requirements for the development and protection of land and space proposed in the 14th Five-Year Plan to ensure space for the implementation of major strategic tasks and major engineering projects. It is necessary to prepare national-level special plans in areas such as technological innovation, infrastructure, eco-friendly transformation, and public wellbeing, with detailed timetables and roadmaps. According to the clear directions in the 14th Five-Year Plan, it is necessary to compile and promote major regional strategy implementation plans, such as for the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, conservation of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta, development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River Basin, so as to achieve new breakthroughs and landmark results as soon as possible and provide strong support for high-quality development. The connections between national planning and provincial, city, and county-level planning need to be strengthened so that all levels work as one, and measures need to be adapted to local conditions to utilize comparative advantages and highlight local characteristics.

Second, it is necessary to strengthen coordination between various types of plans at all levels. Only when all levels and types of planning are coordinated can we be said to be thinking and working with one heart and one mind. Before submitting national special plans, regional plans, and spatial plans for the 14th Five-Year Plan for approval, planning goals, major policies, project arrangements, and risk prevention and control must be coordinated with the 14th Five-Year Plan. All types of plans must be coordinated to avoid conflicts. Provincial development plans must, in accordance with procedures, be coordinated with the national 14th Five-Year Plan before being submitted to provincial people’s congresses for review and approval.

Third, it is necessary to improve the planning management system. We should carry out planning work and encourage fewer but better-quality plans, in strict accordance with the national-level special planning list, spatial planning list, and annual approved plans for regional planning in accordance with the approval by the State Council for the 14th Five-Year Plan period. The various plans prepared or approved by central departments must be filed in time. We should exploit the role of the planning management information platform, bring the preparation and implementation of various plans under unified management, and strengthen information interconnectivity, including in collection and sharing, in order to make planning management more sophisticated and efficient.

2. Enhancing policy coordination mechanisms

We need to accelerate the establishment of policy and work coordination mechanisms in the areas of development planning, finance, and monetary policies.

First, it is necessary to strengthen links between annual plans and the 14th Five-Year Plan. Annual plans provide important support for the implementation of the five-year plan. In accordance with the requirement for short-term regulation objectives to comply with long-term development goals and for coordination between short-term and long-term policies, the main indicators in the 14th Five-Year Plan need to be broken down and incorporated into the system of annual targets, with an overall balance between years. It is necessary to determine the focus of annual work based on the clear development approach set out in the 14th Five-Year Plan and use rolling implementation to ensure that five-year goals and tasks are achieved on schedule.

Second, it is necessary to strengthen the supporting role of various policies in the implementation of  the 14th  Five-Year Plan. There needs to be better coordination between interim fiscal plans and annual budgets and the 14th Five-Year Plan, with central government funds prioritized for major tasks and engineering projects identified in the five-year plan. We should adhere to “projects following planning and funding and factors of production following projects,” simplify approval procedures for major engineering projects included in the 14th Five-Year Plan, and prioritize securing planning sites, land supply, and funding arrangements. Monetary policy must fully reflect the goals of the 14th Five-Year Plan and our economic development situation and use market-oriented means to guide financial resources toward key areas and weak links identified in the plan.

3. Refining planning implementation mechanisms

In the process of implementing the plans, it is necessary to mobilize all forces and adopt flexible methods to carry out planning tasks properly, address irregularities in a timely manner, and ensure the smooth completion of the planned goals. It is necessary to strengthen evaluations of the implementa tion of plans and specify implementation responsibilities and strictly follow assessment mechanisms for binding targets and government accountability requirements in the areas of economic regulation, market supervision, public services, and environmental protection. We should further improve the planning evaluation system, which consists of annual monitoring and analysis, interim evaluations, and final assessments. We should use the results of evaluations to improve government work and appraise performance, and readily submit to the oversight of the NPC in accordance with the law. Finally, we should accelerate the formulation of planning legislation, put into law requirements and effective practices of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, and strengthen legal guarantees for the formulation and implementation of plans.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 21, 2020)