14 November 2018
President Xi Jinping's decision to order a simple meal at a Beijing restaurant Saturday comes as the authorities continue to crack down on corruption. Photo: Reuters
President Xi Jinping's decision to order a simple meal at a Beijing restaurant Saturday comes as the authorities continue to crack down on corruption. Photo: Reuters

WEEKENDER: Xi puts social equity on menu for 2014

President Xi Jinping tried to breathe fresh air in the sociopolitical scene as he bade farewell to 2013 and braced for a set of tough challenges in the next 12 months.

Delivering his New Year speech on December 31, he offered a glimpse of his office, with a painting of the Great Wall behind him and a handful of family pictures and two red telephones on his desk, among other things. The Saturday before, Xi mixed with the public by having a meal at a down-market restaurant in Beijing.

Photographs and video clips of him mingling with the seemingly ordinary people circulated widely online, reinforcing the image of the easygoing work approach and simple lifestyle of China’s fifth-generational leader. The “Chairman’s set meal”, which includes steamed buns and fried liver as a starter, cost 21 yuan (US$3.44) and has become the best-selling item on the restaurant’s menu.

Xi’s selection of plain food and frugal dining comes as the authorities redouble their efforts against corruption and extravagance to silence doubters about the latest crackdowns.

Last week saw the shocking revelation of a massive bribery case in the election of deputies of the provincial people’s congress at Hengyang, capital city of the central province of Hunan. All 518 deputies to the Hengyang people’s congress had taken bribes and all but six resigned. Of the 76 provincial deputies, 56 paid bribes to be elected. The election results were declared invalid.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog, announced Thursday that the party secretary of Hengyang, Tong Mingqian {童名謙}, is facing formal investigation into his role in the election scandal.

The revelation over the New Year of the rare case of bribery among people’s congress deputies was apparently deliberately timed to convey a strong message to the people about the party’s determination to keep the anti-graft battle going in 2014.

Also on Thursday, the party’s organization department confirmed Li Chongxi {李崇禧} was being investigated for corruption. Li was removed from his post as head of the Sichuan People’s Political Consultative Conference, which is an advisory body to the legislature.

Li is a former aide to retired security tsar, Zhou Yongkang {周永康}, who is rumored widely to have been detained for an investigation into his alleged wrongdoings.

The Li case fueled speculation that a formal investigation into Zhou, who retired from the Politburo Standing Committee in 2012, would be announced soon.

If that happens, Zhou will become the first former Politburo Standing Committee member to face criminal investigation, breaking an unwritten party rule not to press charges against present or former Standing Committee members.

Apart from the twin task of beating graft and eliminating extravagance, Xi will play a bigger role in spearheading battles on two other important fronts, namely reform and national security. Following the party central committee’s third plenum in November, Xi was formally named as head of a national security committee and a leading group on deepening reform.

A stronger sense of crisis has engulfed China’s security front since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a visit last month to the Yasukuni Shrine, a site seen as a symbol of Japan’s militarism. The visit has drawn the ire of China and South Korea, stoking fears about the growing risk of military conflict, accidental if not deliberate, between China and Japan in the East China Sea.

In a sign of Beijing’s hardened stance, the official Global Times said Beijing should declare Abe persona non grata and ban him from visiting China. Foreign Ministry officials have virtually ruled out the possibility of a meeting between Abe and Chinese leaders in the near term. Worse, relations between the two major economies in the region look set to enter a prolonged period of uncertainty, possibly punctuated with frictions and sharp exchanges of diplomatic rhetoric.

With tension growing, the communist authorities face a delicate challenge to handle anti-Japanese and nationalist sentiment with care and calm to avoid an outburst of unrest beyond their control.

On the economic front, the new team’s avowed goal to venture into the sensitive areas of reform will be compounded by the slowing pace of economic growth. The official purchasing managers index for the non-manufacturing sector in December slid to a four-month low of 54.6 from November’s 56.

The services PMI follows two manufacturing PMIs out this week that showed growth in China’s factories slowed in December as export orders weakened.

In a 5,000-word speech released by Xinhua on Monday, Xi set out six major tasks for the party and the nation, including the promotion of social equity and justice. He has called for further expansion of the economic pie to provide a more solid material foundation for social equity and justice.

Economists have put China’s economic growth last year at around 7.6 percent, higher than the government’s 7.5 percent target. Analysts expect China to either keep 7.5 percent as its 2014 target or set a lower figure in view of uncertainties in external markets and the strategic task of structural reform.

Xi’s New Year remarks show that the ruling team still puts a high priority on the need to maintain a sizeable economic pie through healthy growth to help the poor and disadvantaged.

Chris Yeung is deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal. This column appears every Friday.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]



He was editor-at-large at the South China Morning Post and, more recently, deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe