3/10/2016

China Being China


The atmosphere in Beijing has changed noticeably in recent months; and many liberal-minded people here now fear that the government of Xi Jinping has made a sharp turn towards authoritarianism.

As nearly three thousand Communist Party delegates gather in the capital for the National People's Congress, this is clearly a critical time for China's economy. 

The rate of growth is down yet again, and although that by itself doesn't necessarily make the Chinese government unhappy, it does mean a greater possibility of a so-called hard landing for the economy, with worrying effects on people's jobs and their standard of living.

The American ratings agency Moody's has cut its outlook for China from "stable" to "negative".

"The real economy is suffering big time," says Liu Qian, the director of the Economist Intelligence Unit's China service. 

"If anything, I'd say that 2016 is the most critical year for the Chinese economy in the past decade or so."

If things turn out awkwardly here, there's always the possible danger of social unrest: the one thing any Chinese government dreads.

And so President Xi Jinping is pulling up the drawbridge.

Two weeks ago he made his new approach unmistakably clear. 

On a single day, he visited the main Communist Party newspaper, the state news agency, and state television.

In each place he told the staff they must be absolutely loyal to the Communist Party and follow its leadership in thought, politics and action.

At CCTV the staff welcomed him with a banner which read "Central Television's family name is The Party". And, not by coincidence, he told them: "The media run by the Party and the government… must have the Party as their family name." 

What he is demanding from the state broadcaster, the main newspaper, and the national news agency is nothing short of total loyalty to the Party line, and to his own leadership.

For some people here, that's uncomfortably reminiscent of 1970s Maoism. 

They talk nervously of a new Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong's hugely destructive campaign to destroy his enemies. 

A leading pro-government academic, Wang Yukai, who teaches at a top school for Party officials insists that this view is mistaken.
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