Common prosperity Is back in fashion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2011, 12:00am


A long-forgotten socialist slogan, 'common prosperity', coined by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, has returned to the limelight, becoming the latest catchphrase for mainland cadres ahead of next year's leadership reshuffle.

In a message to a gathering of Asian political parties in Nanning on Sunday, Vice-President Xi Jinping, President Hu Jintao's heir apparent, reiterated the central government's commitment to 'allowing people to share the fruits of development'.

He said the Communist Party would stick to economic reforms, boost social services, speed up reforms to income distribution and 'unswervingly pursue the path of common prosperity', Xinhua said.

Meanwhile, the party mouthpiece People's Daily also voiced support for Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai's concept of wealth redistribution, with an article yesterday highlighting an endorsement from a group of intellectuals.

Although Xi's remarks largely repeated almost word for word what Hu said in a July speech marking the party's 90th anniversary, political analysts said the frequent talk of common prosperity underlined major policy shifts by Beijing in recent months, in a bid to cope with mounting grievances over social injustice.

They said the catchphrase's comeback marked a clear departure from the era marked by Deng's famous slogan, 'some people must be allowed to prosper first', which saw the resurrection of entrepreneurship and the mainland's rise over the past three decades to the position of a global economic powerhouse.

'After more than 30 years of reform and opening up, the principal contradiction in the country has changed from alleviating widespread poverty to addressing escalating social tensions fuelled by injustice and a widening wealth gap,' said Professor Zhu Lijia of the Chinese Academy of Governance.

But it remained to be seen if Xi's talk of common prosperity amounted to a tacit endorsement of the conservative Bo, one of the top contenders for a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee next year.

Bo, who earned notoriety for his maverick crusade against organised crime and his controversial campaign to resurrect Maoist revolutionary culture, has become the focal point again, with his ultra-orthodox championing of socialist ideology in the pursuit of common prosperity.

In July he explained his 'cake theory' in tackling the contentious issue of the wealth gap, saying it was more important to divide the cake fairly than to make it bigger.

Analysts said Bo's remarks, which paid homage to Deng's lesser-known assertion that 'the ultimate goal is for common prosperity', had been well-received among disgruntled grass-roots citizens angry over corruption, environmental degradation, the divide between rich and poor, and what have been seen as empty promises to tackle inflation.

Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong, said that reiterating common prosperity, one of the cardinal principles of socialist ideology, represented a major change in Beijing's policy, in the face of simmering discontent over the yawning wealth gap that has resulted from break-neck economic development.

But both Cheng and Zhu warned that common prosperity remained a remote goal given the party's poor track record in honouring its political commitments.