Chinese Communist Party head Xi Jinping, who has been keeping a relatively low profile since the protest movement in Hong Kong erupted, addressed a meeting of China’s central planning committee on Monday and called for some “improvements” that belie deep economic anxieties in Beijing.
China’s state-run Xinhua service reported on the meeting with the usual Communist Party boilerplate – everything is going great, all of last year’s plans were brilliant, they just need a tiny bit of fine-tuning to achieve transcendent perfection – but Xi’s “recommendations” revealed apprehension about some stories the Party prefers not to discuss. According to Xinhua:
Efforts should be made to achieve such regional economic planning by improving space governance and adapting to each region’s core functions and local conditions while utilizing appropriate labor distribution and optimized development, said Xi.
Xi also called for efforts to leverage the country’s institutional strengths and super-scale market advantages to boost basic industries and modernize industrial chains.
Efforts should be made to reinforce the economic and population carrying capacity of central cities, city clusters and advantaged areas for economic development, and strengthen other areas’ functions for guaranteeing food and ecological security and the safety of border areas.
The bottom line for people’s livelihood must be ensured while the equalization of basic public services should be promoted.
The meeting stressed the need to form unified, open, competitive and orderly markets of commodities and factors of production across the country to ensure that the market plays the decisive role in allocating resources, and improve the mechanisms for promoting integrated markets and regional cooperation.
In other words, Beijing is starting to worry not just about Hong Kong, but about surprisingly massive demonstrations in China by residents of poorly-planned cities who do not want trash-burning incinerators built next to their homes.
The Chinese are floating improbable plans to rebuild cities like Shenzhen because they are worried about the Hong Kong democracy contagion spreading. Those ominous police drills and military parades being staged in Shenzhen are meant for the eyes of locals as much as they are intended to intimidate Hong Kongers.
The Chinese economy has certainly made remarkable strides over the past few decades, very much at the expense of the U.S. and other trade “partners,” but China still relies on money games that are suddenly becoming very difficult to play.
Haughty imperial China is becoming much more worried about winning favor from Asian nations it used to look upon with disdain. Chinese authorities have begun to grudgingly admit their agricultural crisis, particularly the swine fever outbreak, is much worse than they previously conceded. Some of China’s partners in the Belt and Road infrastructure initiative are beginning to question whether the benefits are worth the costs, including compromises to their sovereignty.
The Wall Street Journal recently proposed Xi “stirred a backlash” around the world by acting too aggressively, which is another way of saying some of the nations and corporations Xi has been attempting to bully are calling his bluff.
Australia’s News.com went further last week and noted signs that Xi is facing some domestic political trouble as well, perhaps enough to threaten his position before the next Chinese Communist Party Congress in 2022.
Conventional wisdom among U.S. pundits, still repeated in some circles, is that China’s capacity to absorb economic pain is so vastly superior to America’s that picking a trade fight with them was the height of folly. Very little of what Beijing is doing at the moment gives the impression of serene confidence that it can easily ride out the next year and a half until a China-friendly Democrat takes over the White House.