1. I pledge allegiance to… who?
Xi Jinping loves it when officials swear allegiance.
Newly appointed senior officials got together for an annual oath-swearing at Zhongnanhai on Wednesday.
- The 36 officials – who recently joined departments and units under the State Council – swore their allegiance to China’s constitution.
Some context: This is a relatively new phenomenon. It started during Xi’s first term in office, in January 2016.
The event drew a high-level crowd:
- Premier Li Keqiang oversaw the ceremony.
- Executive Vice Premier Han Zheng, Vice Premiers Hu Chunhua and Sun Chunlan, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi were all in attendance.
After administering the oaths, Li told the pledgelings to:
- Employ “law-based thinking and approaches” in their work
Get smart: Xi is on a mission to get China hooked on rule of law.
But there’s a catch: In Xi’s version, the Party presides over a coherent system of laws, but is not itself subject to independent judicial oversight.
Get smarter: Governing by law ultimately means obeying Xi and the Party center first – and the constitution second.
2. Wang Yang tours Xinjiang
On Wednesday, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Chairman Wang Yang wrapped up a six-city, four-day inspection tour of Xinjiang.
His mission: Touting national unity and stability.
Wang praised local leadership (Xinhua 2):
- “[He] acknowledged Xinjiang’s achievements in counterterrorism, maintaining stability, and poverty alleviation in recent years.”
And hailed progress for the people of Xinjiang:
- “[Wang] noted that the people of various ethnic groups in Xinjiang have a growing sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security.”
Wang wants to instill a sense of national unity in local minorities (Xinhua 1):
- “[We must] do a good job in ethnic work…, strengthen the education of the national common language, and promote the unity and common development of all ethnic groups.”
He called to uphold freedom of religion… but also to:
- “Adhere to the orientation of religious Sinicization, and guide Islam in Xinjiang to better adapt to the socialist society.”
Get smart: Regardless of what the West thinks, top leaders appear satisfied with their approach in Xinjiang.
Get smarter: Wang’s remarks highlight an ongoing shift in Beijing’s approach toward ethnic minority groups.
- The focus is now on assimilating these groups rather than granting them greater autonomy.
3. Common prosperity more commonly proffered
On Wednesday, Executive Vice Premier Han Zheng held a symposium on implementing the 14th Five Year Plan (FYP).
Han listed his three priorities for getting the 14th FYP off to a good start, namely:
- “Promoting high-quality development.”
- “Ensuring progress on common prosperity.”
- “Establishing a comprehensive national security concept.”
That’s another high-profile mention of “common prosperity” in the books.
- Xi Jinping started talking about the need to make progress on achieving “common prosperity” recently.
- It’s driving a shift in the Party’s approach to economic development (see February 26 Tip Sheet).
We’re still waiting on policy specifics, though, as Han’s instructions didn’t give us much (Gov.cn):
- “We must pay more attention to major social policy issues.”
But he did offer some hints at a policy agenda, including mentions of
- Improving national pension and medical insurance systems
- Expanding affordable housing
The attendees list echoed those priorities: The National Development and Reform Commission played host to the meeting, but it was attended by officials from six other ministries and agencies, including the:
- Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development
- State Administration of Taxation
- National Medical Insurance Administration
Get smart: Efforts to reduce the wealth gap are moving from theoretical to practical pretty fast.
4. Liu He is all about economic security
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from one of our favorite policy people, Vice Premier and economic czar Liu He.
That changed on Tuesday when Liu flew up to Liaoning province to tout economic revitalization.
Some context: Liaoning is part of China’s northeastern rust belt. Once a major industrial base during the Mao era, its economy has since languished, accounting for less than 2.5% of national GDP in 2020.
But Liu’s got a (somewhat vague) plan to change that.
Namely, he wants the province to become a pillar of China’s economic security: (Gov.cn)
- “Liaoning is an important industrial and agricultural base in China, which is of great strategic significance in safeguarding national defense security, food security, ecological security, energy security and industrial security.”
Economic security starts with better economic development, so Liu exhorted provincial officials to:
- Build a rules-based and international business environment
- Develop core technologies
- Upgrade traditional industries to become greener
What’s more, the make-up of Liu’s entourage suggested financial support may be on the cards. Tagging along on the trip were:
- Central bank Governor Yi Gang
- Head of the banking regulator Guo Shuqing
Get smart: Liu’s key message on this trip was less about Liaoning, per se, and more about Beijing’s evolving thinking on economic policy.
- The message: Economic security is national security
That signal was also sent loud and clear in the recently released 14th Five Year Plan (FYP).
Get smarter: National security will be at the heart of economic thinking and policy for the foreseeable future.
What to watch: Expect senior policymakers to be beating this drum especially loudly in the coming months as the 14th FYP is touted and studied throughout the country.
5. Low temperatures, low expectations
With top US and Chinese officials set to meet in Alaska just hours from now, speculation has swirled about possible outcomes from the summit.
- We now have an inkling of what Beijing wants to achieve.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that China wants to turn back the clock:
- “[The Chinese side] plan[s] to urge [the American side] to drop sanctions and restrictions…put in place by the Trump administration, said the people with knowledge of the plans.”
They also want more dialogue:
- “Chinese officials also plan to propose re-establishing regular high-level meetings…and scheduling a virtual summit between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Mr. Biden in April.”
Get smart: Those are both pretty big asks.
Also on Wednesday, Cui Tiankai – China’s ambassador to the US – struck a hopeful tone, but moderated expectations (China Embassy):
- “[W]e do not expect that one dialogue can resolve all the issues between China and the U.S, so we do not have unrealistic expectations.”
- “I hope that…the two sides will start a candid, constructive and rational process of dialogue and communication.”
Get smarter: Cui is right. A reestablishment of dialogue is about the limit of what’s likely to be achieved.
- Neither side is gonna budge on substantive issues.
Our take: The US is looking to implement more sanctions – not less.
- The request for a sanctions rollback will be a non-starter.
The best we can hope for: A cordial airing of grievances that sets up a Xi-Biden meeting later in the year.