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China's 'Two Sessions' 2016

Xi Jinping’s message to the rich to set a good example is timely

The image conveyed by a newly emerged wealthy class amid rapid economic growth is important in shaping China’s social development and influencing its people’s values

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2016, 12:35am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 March, 2016, 12:35am

President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) campaign against corruption has not come without collateral damage to trust between officials and businessmen. This has done nothing to grease the wheels of commerce, with officials wary of business and social contacts with businessmen that pave the way for approvals of contracts and transactions. Now Xi has not only encouraged officials to resume this important interaction by forging squeaky clean relationships, but has delivered a pep talk to wealthy and influential businessmen on their responsibility for setting a good example to the public with their words and actions.

It did not go unnoticed by seasoned observers of the annual sessions of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and National People’s Congress that Xi singled out a group of CPPCC delegates representing the private sector for his first closed-door meeting for the sessions. This sent a politically nuanced message about the importance of the private sector in driving economic growth and creating jobs, given that excess capacity among state-owned enterprises is expected to lead to heavy worker lay-offs. Xi’s emphasis during the meeting on the social responsibility of wealthy businessmen emerged four days later in an official account of his remarks.

This follows increasing controversy over the behaviour of China’s nouveau riche, many of whom have been criticised for unruly behaviour and flaunting extravagant lifestyles. Apart from calling for a “new type” of honest, law-abiding relationship between officials and businesspeople and warning against collusion in power-for-money deals, Xi said he wanted billionaires to engage in charity and Beijing’s poverty alleviation campaign. Acknowledging that many of his audience were successful entrepreneurs and public figures, he reminded them that their behaviour had a big impact as an example to others.

It was a timely message. The public sector may retain the leading role in the country’s economy, but the private sector’s leading role in creating jobs - more than 62 million in the past two years - is crucial to the party’s ability to maintain social stability. Its image is therefore paramount. It has to be remembered that while China now claims more billionaires than any other country, most people are still poor or relatively so. The image conveyed by a newly emerged wealthy class amid rapid economic growth is important in shaping a country’s social development and influencing its people’s values. The behaviour of the nouveau riche can be a source of social discontent or a good example.