Chinese president Xi Jinping has attempted to shore up confidence in his leadership and the country’s slowing economy with a high-profile speech positioning himself as a great reformer and defender of globalisation.
“China is approaching the centre of the world stage and has become a recognised builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, and a defender of the international order,” he said on Tuesday from Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, marking the anniversary of the reform and opening of the Chinese economy.
“Poverty is not socialism,” he said, quoting economic reformer Deng Xiaoping. “We must catch up with the times. This is the purpose of reform,” Xi said, promising to continue reforms in “appropriate areas”.
Xi’s speech comes as the Chinese leadership is facing criticism over slowing growth and confrontation with the US. The Chinese economy, weighed down by debt and lagging consumption, in the third quarter expanded at its slowest pace since the global financial crisis.
However, his remarks lacked any detail about new reforms and failed to inspire confidence in Asian markets. Hong Kong and Shanghai both dropped sharply during the speech. They are now off 1% for the day while losses have deepened to 1.8% in Tokyo and more than 1% in Sydney.
Critics say politics are getting in the way of meaningful needed reform – a rare challenge to Xi, who has amassed power more quickly than any of his predecessors.
Xi has been criticised for increasing the state sector’s control over the economy as private companies have had more difficulty accessing credit. Economic growth underpinned by infrastructure projects has also slowed.
“As things look bad there has been a lot more debate recently about what economic policy should be, but it’s a lot less debate and more criticism,” said Trey McCarver, cofounder of the consultancy Trivium.
Xiang Songzuo, an economist at Renmin University in Beijing said at a forum at the weekend that problems for private businesses in China go beyond access to financing. “What is the fundamental problem? Fear of policy uncertainty, fear that the government is not trustworthy,” he said.
Other critics say Xi’s assertive industrial and foreign policies have provoked confrontation with the US unnecessarily and overturned decades-long policy started by Deng, for China to keep a low profile.
Xi’s signature foreign policy is the Belt and Road project, a massive investment drive to connect Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa by land and sea. At home, the government has pushed an industrial plan to upgrade Chinese manufacturing called Made in China 2025, which forms a key part of US complaints about Chinese intellectual property theft.
In his hour-and-a-half-long speech, Xi made several references to “all ethnic groups” coming together behind the party, remarks that appear to be a response to international criticism response of China’s policies in the far western region of Xinjiang where as many as 1 million Muslim minorities, many of them Uighurs, are being kept in detention camps.Theguardian has more .