Chinese President Xi Jinping preached “openness” and “economic liberalization” to global elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Swtizerland, earlier this week. Meanwhile at home his government was warning against “false Western ideas” at home.
Tightening party control
Xi’s speech came days after the country’s top judge ordered the courts to “boldly whip out the sword” against judicial independence and constitutional democracy. In addition, the ruling Communist Party issued a directive ordering five ministries to put political loyalty first when selecting senior officials. It also decided to revise textbooks to bolster “patriotic education.”
“The contrast between Xi acting flexible abroad and being iron-fisted at home is a reflection of a sense of anxiety or even crisis," said Zhang Lifan. Zhang is a Beijing-based historian who previously was a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “He needs to buy more time and win more room for himself. He needs more foreign investment and less hostility. The party at this moment cannot really afford external conflicts.”
Examples of increased control
The country’s top judge enlisted the courts to battle any attempts to subvert state power, split the country or endanger national security. Supreme People’s Court President Zhou Qiang warned senior judges at a Jan. 14 gathering in Beijing “absolutely not to fall into the trap of false Western ideas” such as judicial independence, separation of powers and constitutionalism.
Zhou stressed the importance of political ideology in judicial officials’ job appraisals. He called for a legal interpretation for cases about the reputation of historic figures venerated by the party. The push for conformity has also hit academics, media officials, doctors, and even pop stars.
An American reaction
“China doesn’t offer a compelling model of governance that most other countries want to follow,” said Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “China is headed in the opposite direction, both in its more restrictive internal policies and in its assertive behavior in the region.”
Foreign companies have complained of difficulties in China’s investment environment. The American Chamber of Commerce in China released a report on January 18 showing that 81 percent of 462 surveyed companies said they felt less welcomed in the country than before, and a quarter were reducing their operations or planning to do so. “It is becoming apparent that the benefits of globalization are being taken for granted or even forgotten” by Beijing, said a statement by AmCham China Chairman William Zarit.