In a country that regularly censors opposing views, pressure from Chinese President Xi Jinping for “common prosperity” has sparked something unusual: a heated public policy debate.
On the one hand, those who share the views of blogger Li Guangman, whose comment last month calling Xi’s regulatory crackdown a “profound revolution” was widely published by mainstream state media. He proclaimed that “the capital market will no longer become a paradise for capitalists to get rich overnight” and “anyone who blocks this human-centered change will be rejected.”
Counter this argument, those like Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalist newspaper Global Times, who refuted Li’s article saying that the planned changes were the result of unified policies of the main leaders. The goal, he said, was gradual social progress rather than a radical campaign that amounted to a sort of second cultural revolution.
Divergent views in China’s tightly controlled media space – in which journalists are routinely locked – indicate internal confusion over how far Xi plans to go to curb “the disorderly expansion of capital.” The result has been a series of seemingly contradictory statements that are giving investors a boost as listed companies in China collectively see their value plummet by trillions of dollars.
Any discord within the Chinese administration raises questions about a power struggle, especially since it all comes before a twice-decade leadership reshuffle in which Xi is expected to be granted five more years in power. . Even more fundamentally, it represents uncertainty over how China can balance two key goals: creating more balanced growth to bolster party support among the masses, and spur the technological breakthroughs needed to overtake the United States as tensions rise. global increase.
Victor Gao, interpreter of Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese leader who inaugurated market-based policies in the 1980s that unleashed the country’s economic potential, called the debate on common prosperity “very sensitive” and said warned that messages from key leaders could be “exaggerated” as they filtered through China’s sprawling bureaucracy.
“We must guard against the danger of exaggerating this campaign for common prosperity,” Gao told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday, adding that it could stifle business and hurt China’s competitiveness. “Personally, I don’t want to see a situation where, for example, the pursuit of common prosperity will harm innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, because that is exactly what China needs now and in the future. coming years.”
In recent weeks, more and more senior Chinese officials have sought to reassure companies that they are not sweeping the private sector. Vice Premier Liu He, Xi’s chief economic aide who led China’s trade talks with the United States, said on Monday that policies to support the private economy have not changed “and will not change.” not in the future ”.
But it’s easy to see why people are confused. What started last year as a push to curb big tech monopolies has since spread to a wave of industries, culminating in a decision in July to ban tutoring companies from making a profit. Following measures to tackle health care costs, working conditions for employees and tax evasion among high net worth individuals, Xi last week “reviewed and approved” more actions to tackle the monopolies, fight against pollution and strengthen strategic reserves.
The government’s efforts to reshape the country’s youth complicate matters. China has placed limits on the number of hours children can play video games, and Xi on September 1 told young executives in a speech that good Communists “will never be cowardly cowards.” Two days later, China’s broadcasting regulator decided to ban movie stars with an “incorrect” policy, cap wages and curb fan culture – especially “sissies and other aesthetics. deformed ”.
“Worshiping Western Culture”
In his commentary on the “deep revolution”, Li noted that “the cultural market will no longer be a sissy star’s paradise, and news and public opinion will no longer be able to worship Western culture.” . The language has prompted some commentators to compare the play to the first dazibao – or a large print poster – which sparked the Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong, which led to massacres and economic destruction that lasted for a decade until his death in 1976.
Li’s article likely caught the attention of middle-level left-wing officials who ordered it to be posted on major media websites, including the People’s Dailiy, Xinhua News Agency and CCTV, said. Feng Chucheng, partner of the Plenum research firm in Beijing. . But, he added, Hu likely issued the rebuttal when leaders realized this was being misinterpreted as the return of the Cultural Revolution.
“The whole bureaucracy is fragmented and most of the people who make it up don’t have the full picture,” Feng said. “So when it comes to sudden political announcements by the top leader such as common prosperity, there is indeed a lot of betting and guessing.”
Lack of clarity
When Hu’s article was published, a Hong Kong-based Chinese official shared the link with Bloomberg News and encouraged its wide dissemination, saying his interpretation of events in China was “closest to the center of power.”
Ambiguous messages can also bring benefits. Chinese tech giants have pounced on themselves to donate large sums of money to help the campaign for common prosperity, while other companies are taking preventative measures to avoid the government’s wrath.
“It’s that experimentalism mentality,” said Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank China. “More clarity will emerge over time, but at the moment I don’t think the central government wants to have a clear definition of it.”
But a lack of clarity also comes with risks. An article published by a liberal Chinese economist, who warned that excessive government intervention would lead to “common poverty”, is no longer available online.
The timing could be tied to major Communist Party meetings – one in November and the party congress next year – in which Xi would like an assertion of his policies and more time in power, according to Steve Tsang, director of the Communist Party. Chinese Institute of the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.
“Disagreement exists among leftists over how far and how fast the party should go in the direction of the left, and whether the left turn is good or bad for China,” he said. “I see elements of resistance and discomfort but no organized opposition.”
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