Course for reform charted in the inner sanctum of Chinese politics

Updated: 2014-03-05 08:39

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

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The rise in the number of government discussions of reform is directly linked to the deliberate reduction in the number of economic topics - which totaled 20 in 2013, falling from 33 in 2011 and 26 in 2012 - discussed at executive meetings.

"Most of the meetings with a heavy focus on the economy are the regular consultations the premier conducts at the end of a financial quarter, in the middle of the year, or prior to delivering the annual work report at the National People's Congress," said Zhang Zhuoyuan from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In the second quarter of 2013, concerns arose that China might be headed for a "hard landing" as the world's second-largest economy posted its lowest growth figures for two decades. At an executive meeting held at the beginning of the third quarter, Li, in a rare departure from the studied blandness of most official statements, admitted that the government "was under great pressure".

However, by "not expanding the deficit, or loosening or tightening monetary policy", in the premier's own words, Li's administration managed to withstand those pressures, and the situation eased in September, when growth stabilized.

"The premier stressed the maintenance of sustainable policies. It seems that he is unwilling to use the government's power to interfere too much in economic development unless the economy is running outside the 'reasonable range'," said Zhang.

That "reasonable range", as proposed by Li, means annual economic growth of about 7.5 percent as the bottom line and CPI growth, or inflation, of 3.5 percent at most. The measures used to ensure the economy runs within Li's reasonable range are almost certain to continue in 2014, and may eventually be extended in the financial sector, which is also witnessing dramatic changes.

A fresh face

Although the mystique surrounding the State Council's executive meetings is intended to present a united front to the world and the media, it also has the possibly unintended effect of hampering identification of the patterns that have emerged through past meetings, and makes prediction almost impossible. It has added extra seasoning to the issue, but has also increased the difficulties surrounding the implementation of policy.

At one of the meetings held in Room No 1 last year, Li invited Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, to offer his insights on the Chinese economy. Ma, a front-liner in China's e-commerce and e-banking sectors, whose online shopping site and wealth-management app has shaken traditional thinking about retailing and banking, was an outsider in the inner sanctum of Chinese politics. In stark contrast to the suits and ties of the high-ranking officials who have populated the room during the last six decades, Ma arrived to deliver his lecture wearing a lime-green sweater.

Making a difference can often prove a difficult task, but sometimes it's the only way progress can be achieved. The reforms promoted by Li and the new Chinese leadership are designed to promote change not only in the way the government conducts State business, but also to provide stability in a rapidly changing world.

"It doesn't mean that the government will be completely hands-off," Zhang said, quoting an image used by the premier himself - if you don't move forward, you will be like a cyclist who stops too quickly: He ends up wobbling and may even fall off his bike.

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