driving the day
1. Former official says chance for peaceful Taiwan reunification diminishing
On Saturday, the official publication of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) ran an op-ed penned by Wang Zaixi, the former deputy director of the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
The topic: Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland.
Wang argued that Washington’s approach to Taiwan had changed (CPPCC):
- “[US policy] has changed from ‘not supporting Taiwan independence’ to…encouraging separatist activities.”
- “US-Taiwan relations have changed from purely unofficial to…semi-official.”
Realities on the ground in Taiwan have also changed:
- Wang said the anti-Beijing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has gained full political power and the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang is unable to counter it.
- The DPP is not willing to sit down and discuss reunification with Beijing.
These changes to the status quo have led Wang to the conclusion that the chance for peaceful reunification with Taiwan is diminishing:
- “It may be difficult to achieve the goal of cross-strait reunification without using military force.”
But this is still a last resort:
- “At present, we still need to strive for…peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and effort.”
Get smart: This is the first time that a PRC official – current or former – has publicly raised the specter of armed reunification since Deng Xiaoping proposed peaceful reunification in 1979. .
Get smarter: Wang’s comments do not (yet) represent an official line, but they may mark an important shift in the discussion on the mainland.
2. Xi’s been working on the railroad
On Sunday, Xi Jinping called for the “high-quality” construction of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, hailing the line as a step forward for both economic integration and ethnic unity.
- Xi made the comments to mark the beginning of construction on the Ya’an–Nyingchi segment of the railway.
Some context: The Sichuan-Tibet Railway is a high-altitude rail-line that will connect – you guessed it! – Sichuan and Tibet.
- Once completed, the line will stretch more than 1,600 km and link the provincial capitals of Chengdu and Lhasa.
Xi said the railway was about more than just transportation (Xinhua):
- “Xi identified the project as a major measure in facilitating the Party’s general plan for governing Tibet in the new era, and stressed the project’s important role in safeguarding national unity, promoting ethnic solidarity.”
Xi also managed to bring ideology into the mix:
- “[Xi] called for leveraging the Chinese socialist system’s advantage of concentrating resources to get things done to accomplish this historic task.”
Get smart: The Party sees economic development as a key facet of governance, and one which may serve to better integrate perennially restive Tibet with the rest of the country.
- Xi hopes the railroad will bring economic development and, by extension, ethnic harmony in its wake.
- Our take: unlikely.
3. Frugal living
On Friday, Premier Li Keqiang chaired a routine State Council executive meeting.
At the top of the agenda: Mitigating the pandemic’s impact on low-income populations, including migrant workers, gig workers, and people living in poverty.
Some context: This year, the State Council has taken significant steps to support people in need. In Q1-Q3:
- Payouts from retirement and pension funds were increased 8.7% per capita
- Poverty relief subsidies were raised 12.9% per capita
Now the State Council wants to deploy more government fundstoward:
- Elderly care
- Public health services
- Welfare and social programs
- Housing security
The meeting said that state-funded programs should not be “divorced from reality” (Gov.cn):
- “[We must] ensure that…expenditures are coordinated with economic development and match financial circumstances.”
And here’s the kicker: Governments at all levels are expected to tighten their belts to come up with the money.
- “[We must] insist on government frugality, resolutely reduce general expenditures, and focus the saved funds on people’s livelihoods.”
Get smart: As winter approaches, and the risk of a second COVID-19 wave intensifies, the poorest are still reeling from the economic impacts of last spring’s lockdowns.
Get smarter: Government legitimacy and social stability depend on extending economic lifelines to these vulnerable groups.
4. Doomsday preppers: State Council edition
Friday’s State Council executive meeting also discussed another important topic (see previous entry).
Namely, guarding against a possible winter resurgence of COVID-19 and other wintertime diseases.
The meeting called for a nationwide public health campaign to prevent a re-emergence of COVID-19 as well as the flu, and other infectious diseases.
Specifically, the meeting stressed increased efforts to:
- Enforce mask-wearing and social distancing
- Ensure ventilation at public venues
- Refine contingency plans for local COVID-19 outbreaks
- Increase reserves of medical supplies
- Improve living environments in both rural and urban areas
- Enhance sanitation at venues such as farmers’ markets, restaurants, old residential communities, hospitals, and sewage and garbage treatment facilities
These measures are not only meant to prevent a COVID-19 comeback this winter, but also aim to foster a healthier population (Gov.cn 2):
- “The general public is encouraged to adopt good health habits and adopt a healthy lifestyle, to quit smoking, drink alcohol in moderation, exercise regularly, and maintain a wholesome diet.”
Get smart: Beijing is not taking any chances. Containing infectious diseases is a key prerequisite for economic development and other important policy goals.
Get smarter: Beijing hopes to use the experience of COVID-19 as a teachable moment to raise public awareness on important health-related issues.
5. Lam gets dissed in Beijing
On Friday, Executive Vice Premier Han Zheng met with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in Beijing.
Some context: Han is the top official overseeing Hong Kong affairs.
Lam was in town to consult with Han and other top officials ahead of her annual policy address, which is scheduled for November 25.
More context: Lam’s speech was originally planned for mid-October. She (embarrassingly) had to delay it because she needed to coordinate with Beijing, but couldn’t get any face time as mainland officials prepared for the fifth plenum.
Han promised support (Gov.cn):
- “The central government and all departments fully support all the work that can maintain Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability, improve Hong Kong people’s livelihood and promote the territory’s integration with the country and the Greater Bay Area.”
Reality check: Lam did not get her number one ask (SCMP):
- “In a press briefing on Friday afternoon, Lam… said the mainland side was not yet ready to lift Covid-19 restrictions on Hongkongers, the most important issue on her agenda, and the city would have to work harder at containing the pandemic.”
The bigger picture: Beijing wants Shenzhen to displace Hong Kong as the engine of the Greater Bay Area.
6. Party tweaks KPIs for cadres
On Friday, the Central Organization Department released a notice aimed at improving performance reviews for officials.
Some context: This is the second tweak to cadres’ key KPIs in two years (see April 22, 2019 Tip Sheet).
The key change: Going forward, KPIs will be formulated to assess officials’ work on boosting the quality of economic development rather than sheer output (MoHRSS):
- “[We should] take [officials’] actual work in implementing the new development concept and promoting high-quality development as the basis for evaluating the performance of the leadership teams [of government agencies] and leading cadres.”
Key criteria for local cadres include:
- Outcomes in promoting economic development quality, efficiency, and restructuring
- Achievements in the “three critical battles” of controlling pollution, poverty alleviation, and de-risking
- Achievements in optimizing the business environment
These assessments will have a big impact on cadres’ careers:
- Good performance could lead to faster promotion
- Poor performance may result in administrative discipline
Get smart: Changing KPIs is an important step in guiding officials to focus on boosting high-quality economic development.
Our question: How will the Party assess the cadres’ qualitative work quantitatively?