Xi Jinping’s intolerance of dissent within government heightens the risk of Chinese policy mistakes
- The dismissal of an outspoken reformist official reflects a profound change, under Xi, in the way Chinese leaders govern: from a collective decision-making process in which disagreements and debate were allowed, to a centralised leadership style in which loyalty and conformity are prized
But the implications of Lou’s dismissal extend beyond Made in China 2025. Lou is a hard-charging reformer with an illustrious record of accomplishments.
His dismissal underscores the extent to which, under President Xi Jinping’s leadership, China’s government has become intolerant of even the slightest internal policy disagreements, even on the subject of economics, which used to be debated quite openly among the leadership. It is an approach that could well prove disastrous.
Since Xi came to power in 2012, decision-making processes at the top level of the Communist Party of China have been changed beyond recognition.
Previously, collective leadership allowed dissenting views to be aired, and decisions were reached largely by consensus – a slow process that sometimes resulted in missed opportunities. But it was also an important risk-management mechanism.
Openness to a variety of perspectives helped ensure that impractical or dangerous ideas were rejected, and the Communist Party made no catastrophic policy mistakes under Xi’s two predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
Xi, however, has replaced collective decision making with centralised leadership. The space for legitimate differences of opinion has been crowded out by the expectation of political loyalty and conformity. In fact, the Communist Party has effectively criminalised voicing opinions that are at odds with the top leadership’s stance.
The resulting lack of constructive opposition means that excessively risky or inadequately considered ideas can become national policies in Xi’s China. And so they have: in the past five years, China has made several major policy mistakes, owing to inadequate internal debate.
This mistake has ended up hurting relations not just with the US, but also with key allies, which view China’s involvement in developing countries – and, thus, their own relations with Beijing – with deepening unease.
Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and the author of China’s Crony Capitalism, is the inaugural Library of Congress Chair in US-China Relations. Copyright: Project Syndicate