Xi Jinping’s 习近平 administration moved to reconsolidate this week. Assembled in Beijing, personnel from the State Security Ministry and the United Front agency (the Party’s interface with non-communist elites at home and abroad) were called upon to turn on the charm. Insiders read this as reflecting Xi’s hopes of refreshing the Party’s legitimacy by posing consultative as an acceptable alternative to electoral democracy.
16 apr 2015: State Council released the ‘Action plan on water pollution prevention and control’. This signifies further recognition on the part of the state that environmental issues must be addressed to maintain political legitimacy. The Water Action Plan, complementing the Air Action Plan, promises a comprehensive response to all stages of the water pollution cycle.
Bold reformers are to be promoted, rules the latest meeting of the elite Decision-Making Group on Deepening Reform, chaired by Xi Jinping 习近平. Devolution and removing approvals has yet to yield substantial results. Positive inducements, carrots rather than sticks, are now in order.
Whispers on the Chinese internet, echoing offshore speculation, suggest that while the administration can catch tigers, they are proving difficult to hold to account. Former Party disciplinarian Zhou Yongkang 周永康 has, it is said, recanted his confession. Delays to his trial throw into question moves on lesser tigers: retired military chief Guo Boxiong 郭伯雄, and former king-maker Zeng Qinghong 曾庆红.
State Council approves plans to clarify the business scope of the three policy banks: China Development Bank (CDB), Export-Import Bank of China (Exim) and Agricultural Development Bank of China (ADBC). Policy banks can continue to offer cheaper financing for public welfare and national interest projects whilst competing commercially for all other loans.
On the campaign trail for economic makeover, resilient premier Li Keqiang 李克强 stood front and centre for much of April. Neither his pro-innovation anti-bureaucracy rhetoric, nor the steady reforms flowing from biweekly State Council meetings betray a political machinery jammed by gridlock. New FTZs opened, Unionpay’s monopoly broke, a new urban cluster was approved and a promised devolution leadership group was inaugurated.
Finance Minister Lou Jiwei 楼继伟 remains the man of the hour as his fifty-fifty ‘middle-income trap’ fears—confessed during a Tsinghua University speech—continue to send commentators into a flurry and stir uncertainty in markets. Lou’s sobering appraisal deflates this hubris and indicates ongoing reforms are petty, compared to the structural changes he advocates. Rebalancing the economy is now the indisputable top priority, yet all parties remain determined to work it to their advantage.
State Council approves the ‘Yangtze River Midstream urban cluster plan’. Incorporating three existing clusters, it promotes integrated development to support the Rise of Central China initiative and Yangtze River Economic Belt. Ambitious plans however overlook basic geographical facts.
Xi Jinping 习近平 has moulded an image for himself as a football diehard. He confirmed his credentials in 2011, unveiling his ‘football dream’ of China qualifying for, hosting and winning the World Cup. The bureaucracy backed up Xi’s passion with action, and 2014-15 has seen China’s football move to the front foot.