May 16, 2021

Changing of the Guard: Signals in China of a More Open Economy

The trip was Mr. Xi’s first outside Beijing since becoming party chief on Nov. 15. Mr. Xi visited a private Internet company on Friday and went to Lotus Hill Park on Saturday to lay a wreath at a bronze statue of Deng Xiaoping, the leader who opened the era of economic reforms in 1979, when Shenzhen was designated a special economic zone. Mr. Deng famously later visited the city in 1992 to encourage reviving those economic policies after they had stalled following the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989.

“Reform and opening up is a guiding policy that the Communist Party must stick to,” Mr. Xi said, according to Phoenix Television, one of several Hong Kong news organizations that covered the trip. “We must keep to this correct path. We must stay unwavering on the road to a prosperous country and people, and there must be new pioneering.”

In the months before the transition, there were widespread calls, including from people close to Mr. Xi, to adopt more liberal economic policies and even to experiment with greater political openness as a way for the party to maintain its rule. Without much success so far, reformers have long been encouraging the leadership to move toward a more sustainable growth model for China, one that relies more on domestic consumption rather than infrastructure investment and exports, and where state enterprises play less of a role.

Mr. Xi, known as a skillful consensus builder, has kept his ideas carefully veiled throughout his career, but his trip to Shenzhen is the strongest sign yet that he may favor more open policies. In a speech in Beijing on Nov. 29, Mr. Xi spoke of the “Chinese dream” of realizing the nation’s “revival,” which, besides being a call for renewal, also signaled strong nationalist leanings.

Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was a revered senior official handpicked by Mr. Deng to help shape the new economic policies and oversee the creation of the Shenzhen zone. Mr. Xi’s mother lives in Shenzhen, and he visited her on his trip, according to Hong Kong news reports.

“If he indeed went to Shenzhen, that means he intends to make reform a subject of priority,” said Li Weidong, a liberal political analyst. “That would really be a phenomenon.”

Mr. Li cautioned, though, that the so-called reform policies that followed Mr. Deng’s 1992 southern tour, in his view, “ended up being fake” because China’s boom resulted in widespread corruption and the expansion of state enterprises at the expense of private entrepreneurship.

When Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, became party chief in 2002, he was seen by many as a potential reformer, but his tenure was marked by conservative policies. For his first trip outside Beijing as party chief, Mr. Hu went in December 2002 to Xibaipo, a hallowed site for the revolution, where he reiterated a speech given by Mao Zedong.

Over the weekend, video footage from Phoenix Television showed a line of minibuses and police cars winding its way through Shenzhen. Mr. Xi and other officials walked outdoors in dark suits. The party’s official news organizations did not immediately report on the trip, but some prominent mainland Chinese news Web sites cited the Hong Kong reports.

Mr. Xi’s early moves as party leader seem aimed at emphasizing national “revival,” a theme he highlighted when he appeared on Nov. 29 with the party’s new seven-man Politburo Standing Committee in a history museum at Tiananmen Square. According to People’s Daily, the party mouthpiece, Mr. Xi stood in front of an exhibition called “The Road to Rejuvenation” and said, “After the 170 or more years of constant struggle since the Opium Wars, the great revival of the Chinese nation enjoys glorious prospects.”

He added: “Now everyone is discussing the Chinese dream, and I believe that realizing the great revival of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream of the Chinese nation in modern times.”

The emphasis on a “Chinese dream” is particular to Mr. Xi, and could prove to be a recurring motif throughout his tenure. The notion of a grand revival — “fu xing” in Mandarin — has been popular with Chinese leaders for at least a century, but Mr. Xi appears to be tapping more deeply into that nationalist vein than his recent predecessors, perhaps recognizing that traditional Communist ideology no longer has popular appeal.

Patrick Zuo contributed research.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/world/asia/chinese-leaders-visit-to-shenzhen-hints-at-reform.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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