25 April 2019
Jinjiang, which relies heavily on low-end manufacturing to support its economy, is among the Chinese cities that will feel the pinch from the Sino-US trade war. Photo: China Daily
Jinjiang, which relies heavily on low-end manufacturing to support its economy, is among the Chinese cities that will feel the pinch from the Sino-US trade war. Photo: China Daily

Li Zhanshu’s Fujian visit was no routine local inspection trip

Li Zhanshu, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the current chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), paid a visit to various cities in the Fujian province between July 25 and 28.

According to state media reports, Li — who is considered to be a trusted man and a close political ally of President Xi Jinping — was on a task to inspect and study “the progress of local economic reforms and the implementation of the NPC’s resolutions.”

However, if we take a closer look, we can actually tell that instead of being just a routine visit to a province, Li’s recent trip to Fujian carried a lot of political undertones. The reasons are as follows:

First, Fujian province is a special place with a lot of good memories and sentimental value attached to it as far as President Xi is concerned: it is the place where he had spent most of his political career as a chief local official, and regarded by him as his second hometown.

In June 1985, Xi, on his 32nd birthday, was assigned to the office of the deputy mayor of Xiamen city, and began his political career there.

And in the 17 years plus 5 months that followed, he would continue to work in Fujian in various capacities, get married and then see the birth of his daughter, right until he was reassigned to Zhejiang province in October 2002.

As Xi himself has always put it, he spent “the best days of his young life in Fujian”.

That being said, Li’s sudden high-profile visit to Fujian at a sensitive moment when the mainland is facing huge political and economic challenges could hardly have been just a routine trip.

Second, unlike his previous visits to local provinces, Li didn’t pick Fuzhou, the provincial capital and home to the CPC committee of Fujian as well as the provincial government headquarters, as the first leg of his trip.

Rather, he went straight to Jinjiang County, a place to which President Xi paid 7 visits within a span of six years when he was serving as the deputy party chief and governor of Fujian province back in the 1990s.

In 2002, the People’s Daily and Fujian Daily jointly ran an article under Xi’s byline which coined the phrase “the Jinjiang experience”, and which referred to it as a “bold exploration and successful execution of the development path of socialism with Chinese characteristics carried out by the people of Jinjiang.”

As this year marks the 16th anniversary of the publication of that “landmark” article and also the 40th anniversary of China’s economic reforms, the state media had started mounting a nationwide propaganda campaign for the “Jinjiang experience” since early July before Li took his trip.

As such, the timing of Li’s Fujian trip doesn’t seem to be a coincidence.

In fact during his stay in Jinjiang, Li repeatedly stressed that the “Jinjiang experience” promoted by Xi 16 years ago has provided the Fujian province with a key to success and an action manual for economic reforms and development, and such experience is still very much applicable today.

Li even referred to the “Jinjiang experience” as an “invaluable ideological and spiritual treasure.”

Given that Li was echoing the state media on the “Jinjiang experience”, it suggests that the CPC leadership is trying to set a refined tone for the country’s economic reform efforts in the coming days. From now on, the “Jinjiang experience”, the brainchild of President Xi, should get the same level of emphasis and attention as the “Guangdong experience” when it comes to economic development.

And third, as a Sino-US trade war is underway now in full swing and export-oriented enterprises as well as local economies across the mainland are beginning to feel the pinch, Li’s visit to the Jinjiang county also carried a lot of symbolic meanings.

It is because, given its status as a hub of the mainland shoemaking and garment industries and often dubbed “the world capital of jackets” and “the Chinese capital of sneakers”, Jinjiang, like many other mainland counties and cities that rely heavily on low-end manufacturing as the growth engine, has taken the brunt of the ongoing trade war with the US.

Therefore, Li’s recent visit to Jinjiang and his bringing up of the “Jinjiang experience” again have not only served as a gesture of Beijing’s support for local economies in times of difficulties, but also as an initiative to encourage key export provinces like Fujian to facilitate tech innovations and upgrade their manufacturing industries in order to find a way out amid US trade sanctions.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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