China's leadership is trying to manage a tenuous balancing act between letting the private sector grow the economy, and making sure that its focus remains true to the party message.
In 2002, then president Jiang Zemin welcomed entrepreneurs to the party, and according to Bloomberg, the private sector has since grown to make up more than 60% of China's economy. As the private sector developed, however, it has done so in a way that is concerning to current president Xi Jinping. Some Chinese have "unwittingly become trumpeters of Western capitalistic ideology" which could lead to "disastrous consequences." Xi said in a speech at Beijing's Party School last December.
Thus, through speeches of his own, and through government media outlets, president Xi is setting out to remind the private sector of just what its role is, and what its priorities should be.
Xi's speeches are very clear about the party message. In March, Xi told businessmen that entrepreneurs shouldn't simply make money, they must "love the motherland, love the people, love the Communist Party, and actively practice socialist core values." The media arm of the government is doing its part by picking up the rhetoric as well. China Daily wrote that tycoons colluding "with corrupt officials" have sparked "wide doubt over the private sector and its role." While the party periodical Red Flag Manuscript joined in, saying "some business people in the nonstate economy, especially some entrepreneurs, are having errors in their thinking." They "lack faith in Marxism, socialism, and communism."
One businessman who felt the brunt of China's expanding propaganda, is Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real estate tycoon who must serve a one-year probation for publishing “erroneous views” that “seriously violate the Party’s political discipline,” according to a May 2 statement by a Beijing party committee. A party member, he got in hot water after questioning the president’s call for tighter controls over the media.
With about 73 million private enterprises and family businesses in China, the private sector has become a very important piece to the overall economy, but not too important to be outside of the party message of course. "Private enterprises, for the government, are an indispensable part of the economy. But if they develop too well, officials may knife them. A strong state can at any time bankrupt or eliminate them." says Hu Xingdou, an economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology.
Bankrupt or eliminate the business, or as the first step, simply disappear people until they've been reminded enough of the message that they're deemed fit to return to public life, which is something we've seen a lot of in the past (here, here). In the first eight months of last year, senior managers from 34 companies went "missing" as they were picked up in connection with investigations. The phrase "shilian", or lost contact, has become how people refer to the practice.
It's clear that China will certainly have its hands full if it's going to add enforcement of party message to its already growing list of issues such as a slowing economy and social unrest. We are, however, curious to find out if the creation of a massive debt bubble in an effort to try and jump start the economy will fall under "disastrous consequences of Western capitalist ideology" when it implodes, or if that will be something the central planners take credit for.
Finally, with all this taking place as China is clearly cracking down on any dissent, most notably in its recent gag order on "bearish" economists, analysts, pundits and media voices as reported in "A Panicked China Orders Media To Stick To "Positive Reporting" Or Risk "The Stability Of The Country" and of course "China Threatens Its Economists And Analysts To Only Write Bullish Reports, Or Else" one wonders if there is any "data" out of China that is even remotely credible, let alone accurate, any more?
To be sure, headlines like these only reinforce the fear that China's economy is doing far, far worse thatn the official data suggest:
- CHINA’S ECONOMY WITHIN, OR EVEN BETTER THAN EXPECTATION: CHINA DAILY
Because if you repeat it enough times, it becomes the truth?