China pursues ‘rejuvenation’ with tycoons and society control

BEIJING – An avalanche of changes launched by China’s ruling Communist Party has rocked everyone from tech billionaires to schoolchildren. Behind them: President Xi Jinping’s vision of making a more powerful and prosperous country by rekindling revolutionary ideals, with more economic equality and tighter party control over society and entrepreneurs.

Since taking power in 2012, Xi has called on the party to return to its “original mission” as China’s economic, social and cultural leader and carry out the “rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation.”

Since then, the party has spent the decade silencing dissent and tightening political control. Now, after 40 years of growth that turned China into a factory for the world but left a wedge between a rich elite and the poor majority, the party promises to distribute prosperity more equitably and urges private companies to pay for it. social assistance and supporting Beijing’s ambition to become a global technological competitor.

To support his plans, Xi’s government is trying to create what it sees as a healthier society by reducing children’s access to online games and banning “sissy men” who are deemed insufficiently masculine from the community. television.

The Chinese leadership wants to “direct everyone’s constructive energies in a laser-focused direction chosen by the party,” Andrew Nathan, a Chinese policy scholar at Columbia University, said in an email.

Beijing has launched anti-monopoly and data security crackdowns to tighten its control over internet giants, including e-commerce platform Alibaba Group and gaming and social media operator Tencent Holdings Ltd. , which seemed too big and potentially independent.

In response, their billionaire founders have strived to show loyalty by pledging to share their wealth as part of Xi’s loosely defined ‘common prosperity’ initiative to close the income gap in a country of over billionaires. than the United States.

Xi has yet to give details, but in a society where every political term is scrutinized for its meaning, the name revives a 1950s propaganda slogan under Mao Zedong, the founder of the communist government.

Xi is reviving the “utopian ideal” of the early communist rulers, said Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But of course, huge question marks have arisen, as this will hurt the more creative and lucrative parts of the economy.”

Alibaba, Tencent and others have pledged tens of billions of dollars for job creation and social protection initiatives. They say they will invest in the development of processor chips and other technologies cited by Beijing as priorities.

Anti-monopoly enforcement and the party crackdown on how companies handle customer information is similar to Western regulation. But the brutal and blunt manner in which the changes were forced is prompting warnings that Beijing threatens innovation and economic growth, which are already in decline. Nervous foreign investors have reduced the market value of Tencent and billions more from other companies by more than $ 300 billion.

“I think over the next two years we will probably see a very difficult relationship develop between the political elite and the business elite,” said Michael Pettis, professor of finance at the Guanghua School of Business. Peking University, in a report.

Chinese officials say the public, consumers and entrepreneurs will benefit from higher incomes and increased regulatory oversight from corporate giants. Parents are welcoming restrictions announced last month that limit children under 18 to three hours of online games per week and only on weekends and Friday evenings.

“I think this is a good rule,” said Li Zhanguo, father of an 8-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl in central Zhengzhou City. “Games still have addictive mechanisms. We cannot rely on children’s self-control.”

The crackdown reflects the party’s efforts to control a rapidly changing society of 1.4 billion people.

Some 1 million members of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups have been forced to seek refuge in detention camps in the northwest. Officials deny accusations of abuse, including forced abortions, and say the camps are intended for vocational training and countering extremism.

A monitoring initiative dubbed Social Credit aims to track every person and business in China and punish violations ranging from relationships with business partners who violate environmental rules to waste.

“Our responsibility is to unite and lead the whole party and people of all ethnic groups, to take over from history and work hard to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Xi said. when he and the six other members of the party’s new Standing Committee first appeared in public in November 2012.

The party’s Central Committee shifted its economic focus “from efficiency to fairness” in late 2020, a Beijing think-tank researcher wrote in August in Caixin, China’s largest business magazine.

The party has gone from “early prosperity for some to” common prosperity “” and “capital to work,” wrote Luo Zhiheng of the Yuekai Securities Research Institute. He said executives focus on science, technology and manufacturing rather than finance and real estate.

Prominent economists have tried to reassure entrepreneurs.

“It is impossible to achieve common prosperity by ‘robbing the rich and helping the poor’,” Shanghai Fudan University School of Economics Dean Zhang Jun told The Paper on August 4.

The 1979 launch of market-type economic reform under then-leader Deng Xiaoping sparked predictions abroad that China would move towards a more open, if not democratic, society.

The Communist Party has allowed freer movement and encourages the use of the Internet for business and education. But leaders reject changes to a one-party dictatorship that has copied its political structure from that of the Soviet Union and are keeping a close watch on entrepreneurs. Beijing controls all media and tries to limit what the Chinese public sees online.

As the economic boom of the previous decade wears off, “Xi sees himself as the only person capable of re-building momentum,” said June Teufel Dreyer, a Chinese policy scholar at the University of Miami.

Party members who fear reforms will weaken political control appear to have decided that China’s rise to power is permanent and that liberalization is no longer necessary, said Edward Friedman, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin .

This means that “the anti-totalitarian elements of the reform program could be overturned,” Friedman said in an email. “That’s what Xi is doing, as manifested in his attack on allegedly gay and girly culture as a supposed threat to so-called manly militarism.”

An August 29 commentary by obscure writer Li Guangman described “common prosperity” as a “profound revolution.” Writing on the WeChat messaging service, Li said the financial markets “would no longer be a haven for capitalists to get rich overnight” and said the party’s next goals could include high housing costs and health care.

The commentary was reposted on major state media websites, including the ruling party’s daily People’s Daily. This sparked questions as to whether Beijing could swing into an ideological campaign with echoes of the violent Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, when some 5 million people were killed.

Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, a newspaper published by the People’s Daily known for its nationalist tone, responded by criticizing Li’s comment. Hu warned in a blog post against a return to radicalism.

“The Cultural Revolution was a time of chaos, triggered on purpose by Mao because he felt comfortable in the chaos,” Nathan said.

“It’s almost exactly the opposite,” he said. “It is an effort to create a tightly structured order.”

AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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