Hu Shuli, the woman who founded the Beijing-based financial and business media group Caixin, recently published an editorial in which she called for the “construction of a new relationship between business and the state.”
The Sept. 18 article, which comes less than a week after the central Chinese authorities sacked over 400 national and provincial lawmakers in Northeast China’s Liaoning province, is a nuanced hint from a media figure with indirect ties to the current Communist Party leadership that new policy is in order.
“Creating an optimal habitat for entrepreneurs requires more than just favorable policy. There needs to be … a consistent ecology,” Hu wrote. “In particular, this means advancing reforms to the system of government and accelerating the construction of democracy and rule of law.”
Caixin, founded in 2010, is not a state-run mouthpiece, but is widely regarded to be aligned with Wang Qishan, head of the Party’s powerful internal disciplinary agency and one of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee that de facto rules China.
Wang has spent the last few years as leader Xi Jinping’s right-hand man, leading the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection to investigate and punish thousands of officials for corruption. Throughout the campaign Caixin has regularly been used as a conduit to publicize the arrests and investigations that Wang’s organization has orchestrated, along with the vast ill-gotten wealth that the vanquished are found to have hoarded.
According to political commentator Li Tianxiao with New York’s New Tang Dynasty Television, Hu Shuli’s (and Caixin’s) connections to Wang mean that the Sept. 18 editorial can be read as a political signal, both to the public at large and to Xi’s political rivals, especially in light of the legislative purge.
On Sept. 13, 45 representatives of Liaoning Province—delegates serving on the National People’s Congress, which serves as a rubber-stamp parliament—were removed for obtaining their positions through bribery and other illegal means. Hundreds more delegates to the Liaoning provincial congress were also removed or resigned for similar reasons.
“The Liaoning vote-buying case has shaken the whole country,” Hu Shuli’s article reads, before discussing “lessons to be learned” as well as the relatively poor economic state and “unhealthy political ecology” of the entire northeast Chinese region, where Liaoning is located.
It also notes that Zhang Dejiang, who chairs the NPC Standing Committee and is, like Xi and Wang, a Politburo Standing Committee member, called the case the “the first-ever instance of electoral fraud at the provincial level or higher since the establishment of the New China.”
“New China” is a term often used in communist propaganda to refer to the People’s Republic of China.
According to Li Tianxiao, the Liaoning sackings and the Caixin editorial are likely intended to have the effect of “restraining Zhang Dejiang” ahead of the upcoming 6th Plenum of the incumbent 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. This is the last plenary session before the 19th Party Congress scheduled for next year, and is when personnel assignments in vacant regime positions will be announced.
Li said that the NPC’s control by Zhang Dejiang, a rival of Xi, poses an obstacle to the Chinese leader getting his personnel wishlist at the 6th Plenum.
Zhang is linked with the unofficial faction of Party leaders associated with Jiang Zemin, the former communist head whose influence extended for about a decade after he left his posts in the early 2000s. Many of the officials targeted in Xi and Wang’s anti-corruption have been Jiang allies.
“The Xi leadership is trying to restrain Zhang Dejiang,” Li said.
The Caixin article also gave a scathing, if indirect indictment of fallen officials who had held positions in Liaoning, a handful of whom belonged to Jiang’s upper echelons of patronage.
“Liaoning is endowed with a reserve of natural resources that is rarely seen around the world, let alone just China,” Hu wrote in regards to the region’s struggling economy.
“But why has Liaoning’s economy slid down to this state? In a nutshell, the root of the ailment lies in the remaining organizational mechanisms of the obsolete and ossified planned economy.”
With the onset of market reforms, the state-run industrial and prospecting enterprises went into recession and were, without much success, bailed out by massive subsidies from the central authorities in the 2000s.
However, the Jiang era was one as much defined by the growth of corruption as it was by economic expansion, as the Party leader invited Party elites to enter business and give them protection in exchange for their political loyalty. If that era is truly coming to an end, Hu may have cause for genuine optimism.