Incoming Chinese leader signals intention to resume modernisation
When then supreme leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, visited the southern enclave of Shenzhen back in 1992, he was making a powerful political statement that he hoped the city, across the border from Hong Kong, would provide a template for a broader modernisation of China.
So it is not an over-interpretation to see Xi Jinping’s first official trip as ruler of the Communist Party as a signal that he is gearing up to clear the reform logjam of the past decade and resume China’s economic modernisation.
During his visit to Shenzhen, Xi visited a statue of Deng built to mark his visit two decades earlier, and he met cadres who had accompanied him on that tour. He also planted a banyan tree. “We will continue down this path, unswervingly continue down the path of enriching the country and the people, and will break new ground,” Xi said.
His decision to begin his Irish visit in Shannon was an early sign that he is allying himself to reformist elements in the party, because Shannon’s free trade area was a model for the special economic zones, the foundation on which China’s economic revival was built.
He is also paying homage to his father, revolutionary hero Xi Zhongxun, who as governor of Guangdong pushed for the establishment of China’s first special economic zones.
Shenzhen was a fishing village in the 1970s but has been transformed into one of China’s most successful cities, mostly on the back of booming exports.
Death of Mao
Deng kicked off China’s economic modernisation in the late 1970s after the death of Mao Zedong and is reputed to have said “to get rich is glorious”.
The era of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao has not seen much in the way of economic liberalisation, although it has been a period of spectacular growth and wealth creation until the economy started to sputter, hitting a three-year low of 7.4 per cent in the third quarter of this year.
Xi is due to take over as president in March, completing his ascent to leadership of party, army and state. He is trying to freshen up the party’s image, and has been forthright in condemning corruption, a major issue among young, web-savvy middle-class Chinese.
The Xinhua news agency reported at the weekend that a former police chief in the northwestern region of Xinjiang was under investigation after online allegations that he had hired two of his mistresses, twin sisters, to work for local police.