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Unleashing Reforms, Xi Returns to China’s Socialist Roots

Reuters and Chanakya Forum Thu, 09 Sep 2021   |  Reading Time: 3 minutes

BEIJING (Reuters) -When Xi Jinping took command of the Communist Party in late 2012 and proclaimed “only socialism can save China”, it was largely ignored as the perfunctory mention of an antiquated slogan – not to be taken literally in a modern-day, market-powered economy.

But sweeping new policy moves – from crackdowns (https://www.reuters.com/world/china/education-bitcoin-chinas-season-regulatory-crackdown-2021-07-27) on internet companies, for-profit education (https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-says-private-tutors-will-not-be-able-offer-classes-online-2021-09-08), online gaming (https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-rolls-out-new-rules-minors-online-gaming-xinhua-2021-08-30) and property market excesses, to the promulgation of “Common Prosperity” – show Xi’s seriousness in steering China back towards its socialist roots.

Having done away with term limits in 2018, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong is pushing what some observers describe as a mini “revolution”, curbing the excesses of capitalism and shedding negative cultural influences of the West.

The effort, touching everything from school curriculums – including the newly required study of  “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” – to tighter regulation of the property sector and a squeeze on what the government sees as unwholesome entertainment (https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-radio-tv-body-strengthen-regulation-cultural-programmes-salaries-2021-09-02), has rattled investors and prompted officials and state media to try to assuage markets.

On Wednesday, for example, the official People’s Daily sought to reassure the private sector that support for it “had not changed”: recent regulatory actions were meant to “rectify market order”, promote fair competition, protect consumer rights and “perfect the socialist market economy system”.

But the intent, observers say, is clear. “Xi wants to address a very contemporary issue, the way in which neoliberal reforms have made China much less equal, and bring back the sense of mission that shaped early Maoist China,” said Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese history and politics at Oxford University. That inequality, as well as the vast wealth and power accumulated by some industries, threatened to undermine social stability and ultimately the party’s legitimacy if left unchecked, some analysts said.

The timing of the reforms reflects confidence that China can solve its problems through its own hybrid system instead of following the model of the West, whose shortcomings – from managing COVID-19 to the chaos of the U.S. election and withdrawal from Afghanistan – are repeatedly depicted in China as evidence of systemic decay.

“The state control model did seem to serve China well in the fight against COVID,” said Chen Daoyin, a political commentator who is based in Chile and was formerly an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. Xi is confident of striking a balance between government and markets, and between power and capital, Chen said. “The danger is when the state can’t resist reaching out its visible hand … it creates unpredictability and political risk for capital,” Chen said.

The Hong Kong market, where many Chinese tech firms targeted by the crackdown are listed, has lost over $600 billion in value since July, with investors whipsawed by new regulations and scouring old speeches for clues as to what may be coming. Xi’s activist populism also demonstrates confidence that he can afford to alienate elites who fall on the wrong side of his policies as he solidifies his case for a third five-year term – not that there is any visible competition.

But his calculus goes even beyond that, analysts say. “Xi is an ambitious leader with a grand vision who genuinely wants to go down in history as the man who saved the party and made China strong,” said Yang Chaohui, a lecturer in politics at Peking University. China’s State Council Information Office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

MR. FIX-IT?

Under Mao, the earliest iterations of party doctrine aspired to free people from the exploitation of capital, destroy private ownership and defeat American imperialism. Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor, took a pragmatic turn, allowing market forces to incentivise production and unleashing four decades of breakneck growth that fuelled massive wealth accumulation – but also deep inequality.

This summer’s reforms are enabled by Xi’s consolidation of control since taking office: he unleashed a massive anti-corruption campaign, eliminated space for public dissent, and reasserted Communist Party power – with himself at the “core” – across all aspects of society. With that power, Xi is addressing a spate of societal woes, from people not having enough babies and an unhealthy obsession with educational achievement to young adults so stressed by the rat-race that they would rather drop out and “lie flat”. New rules curb young people spending too much time playing online games and too much money promoting their idols.

“Xi has set out to tackle the problems that cause anguish for the common people, such as corrupt officials and the rich-poor gap,” said Chen.

While many in China express scepticism that Beijing can get people to have more babies or make big-city housing more affordable, some of the moves appear popular: many parents welcome an easing of the educational burden and the new three-hour-per-week time limit for children to play online games.

“Championing the common people gives him a moral high ground to consolidate his authority within the party and makes it hard for his political opponents to attack him. After all who can be against social equality?”

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POST COMMENTS (3)

Utkarsh Suryavanshi Rajanaka

Sep 21, 2021
China's recent curbs are going to make them stronger as a country. None of these 3 restrictions, namely, limiting unchecked corporate growth, limiting video games , and restricting private tuitions. Look at the United States itself. Today, it is a shadow of its former self, with the state almost having 0 say in anything. The financial and commercial policies are decided by private banks, the healthcare system is designed by private pharma, insurance & medical corporations, the entertainment is dictated by a handful of social media/tech giants, and the education system is becoming impossible to afford, resulting in record decrease in the number of Americans pursuing higher education compared to 40 years ago. An average American takes decades to pay of education loans, is saddled with housing & other loans the moment he or she is ready for a family & lives off paycheck to paycheck. This average person finds it cheaper to die than to saddle his family with medical debt. The biggest financier of medical treatment in the US is GoFundMe, which has hundreds of campaigns requesting donations to conduct life-saving surgeries. Likewise, the arms corporations decide wars & foreign policy in the US. The common American soldier gets pittance for the risk he or she takes. This soldier is constantly deployed in high-intensity situations, has to suffer physical & psychological trauma on endless battlefields, stay away from family & then ends up getting discarded like a nobody once they cannot function or are lucky enough to retire with all pieces intact. CCP is not foolish; in fact they are the most pragmatic government in today's times when seen from a Chinese perspective. They want keep tabs on the unchecked power of corporations, they are combating gaming addiction which is now medically classified as an ailment, and they want to ensure that education does not become a commodity. How is any of this wrong? Sure, it allows them to remain in power as the anchors of the country, but aren't these reforms good? Housing, healthcare, education are 3 fundamental rights of any person. If they are commercialized without any checks or balances, it will result in a disaster. Housing sector is broken in India; no checks & balances where property dealers use speculative tools to inflate prices that a majority of the country can't afford. Healthcare is decent, but is inaccessible to the vast majority, let alone critical life-saving surgeries. Education is now completely commercialized in India, to a point where parents of this generation are left wondering whether it makes sense to have children any more. Do we want to end up like the US aka a corporate deep state dictatorship masquerading as a democracy, or learn to finely balance out the right from the wrong?

Suhas

Sep 12, 2021
The Chinese is still an export driven economy. Xi, should not forget that the world manufacturing came to China,because they reformed from being socialist to capitalist at least in the manufacturing area, which pushed their economy for 4 decades. Now if Xi, thinks that China has progressed enough that he can drive it back to socialism, he is playing with wild fire. US has been the super power only because its currency is accept across the world, else the way US works any country would collapse. XI, hold remember this difference and no economy would accept yuan, after a planned unleashing of Wuhan Virus across the world. I suppose China made an early wrong move trying to checkmate the world economy thinking everyone is dependent on him.

ASHOK IYER

Sep 10, 2021
Social equality is a myth. Since time immemorial, there has never been social equality anywhere in the world. Xi and his moronic advisors should realize that they are playing with fire. After veering towards capitalism from a socialist base they want to go back to a socialist model. That’s like asking a tiger, who has tasted human blood, to go back to eating regular meat and desist from tasting human meat again. The people of China have tasted capitalism and forcing them to accept socialism is going to lead to unrest, both overt and covert, amongst the Chinese populace. Once this fire starts spreading, XI ad the CCP are going to have a major problem on their hands.

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