In a strong signal of support for greater market-oriented economic policies, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), the new head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), last week visited the special economic zone of Shenzhen in southern China, which has stood as a symbol of the nation’s embrace of a state-led form of capitalism since its growth over three decades from a fishing enclave to an industrial metropolis.
The trip was Xi’s first outside Beijing since becoming party chief on Nov. 15. Xi visited a private Internet company on Dec. 7, and went to Lotus Hill Park on Saturday to lay a wreath at a bronze statue of Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), the leader who started an era of economic reforms in 1979, when Shenzhen was designated a special economic zone. Deng famously visited the city in 1992 to encourage the revival of those economic policies after they had stalled following the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989.
“Reform and opening up is a guiding policy that the Communist Party must stick to,” Xi said, according to Phoenix Television, one of several Hong Kong-based news organizations that covered the trip.
“We must keep to this correct path. We must stay unwavering on the road to a prosperous country and people, and there must be new pioneering,” he said.
In the months before the leadership transition, there were widespread calls, including from people close to Xi, to adopt more liberal economic policies and even to experiment with greater political openness as a way for the party to maintain its rule. Without much success so far, reformers have long been encouraging the leadership to move toward a more sustainable growth model for China, one that relies more on domestic consumption rather than infrastructure investment and exports, and where state enterprises play a lesser role.
Xi, known as a skillful consensus builder, has kept his ideas carefully veiled throughout his career, but his trip to Shenzhen is the strongest sign yet that he could favor more open policies.
In a speech in Beijing on Nov. 29, he spoke of the “Chinese dream” of realizing the nation’s “revival,” which, besides being a call for renewal, also signaled strong nationalist leanings.
Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun (習仲勳), was a revered senior official handpicked by Deng to help shape new economic policies and oversee the creation of the Shenzhen zone.
Xi’s mother lives in Shenzhen, and he visited her on his trip, according to Hong Kong news reports.
“If he indeed went to Shenzhen, that means he intends to make reform a priority,” said Li Weidong (李衛東), a liberal political analyst. “That would really be a phenomenon.”
Li cautioned, though, that the so-called reform policies that followed Deng’s 1992 southern tour, in his view, “ended up being fake” because China’s boom resulted in widespread corruption and the expansion of state enterprises at the expense of private entrepreneurship.
When Xi’s predecessor, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), became party chief in 2002, he was seen by many as a potential reformer, but his tenure was marked by conservative policies.
For his first trip outside Beijing as party chief, Hu went to Xibaipo, a hallowed site for the revolution, where he reiterated a speech given by Mao Zedong (毛澤東).
Over the weekend, video footage from Phoenix Television showed a line of black sedans and minibuses winding its way through Shenzhen. Xi and other officials walked outdoors in dark suits. The party’s official news organizations did not immediately report on the trip, but some prominent mainland Chinese news Web sites cited the Hong Kong reports.