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In many places, the remarks repudiate policies pursued by the State Council under Premier Li Keqiang (pictured) and also rebuff comments made by many Chinese officials. Photo: State Council website

Guessing game: who is mystery ‘authoritative figure’ claiming major shift in China’s economic policy?

An unnamed “authoritative figure” caused a stir in China’s market yesterday after publishing views about the nation’s economy and future policies via the Communist Party’s top mouthpiece, prompting a guessing game over who and just how high up the person was.

The remarks were carried in an article on the front page of People’s Daily and were striking for their strong personal tone, which was distinct from the usual voice of officialdom and exhibited a dislike of China’s debt-fuelled growth.

The unidentified person said propelling growth with increasing levels of debt was like “growing a tree in the air”. Houses were built for people to live in – not as targets for speculation, and government bodies shouldn’t surprise the public by making policy announcements at midnight, the person said.

China’s growth would follow an “L-shaped” trajectory and there would not be any V-shape or U-shape rebounds. “I need to stress, that the L-shape will last for a certain period of time, and it’s certainly longer than one or two years,” the person said.

In many places, the remarks repudiate policies pursued by the State Council under Premier Li Keqiang and also rebuff comments made by many Chinese officials.

Only seven weeks ago Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, a member of the party’s innermost seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, told business executives from across the world that China’s economy was “opening the gate to see red” in 2016, a way of referring to a good start, and the nation was likely to shed its economic woes and enter “an open sea and sky” in 2017.

So, who could be more “authoritative” than the State Council and a vice-premier? Some mainland media, including Sina and The Beijing News, said “authoritative figures” cited in the party mouthpiece in the past were usually at least directly involved in policymaking. The positions could include head of the general office of the party’s financial and economic affairs leading group, state planning chief or the chief’s deputy for macroeconomic policy research.

While the article probably did not come from top state leaders directly, mainland media said, President Xi Jinping’s top economic aide, Liu He, could fit the profile. He is currently the director of the leading group’s general office as well as a vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission.

This is the third time People’s Daily has published such a question-and-answer transcript by an “authoritative” figure – the first was in May last year when the figure talked about China’s economic situation, then again last January when the interviewee detailed “supply-side” reforms.

In January, an article on the Wechat account of Xiakedao, run by the overseas edition of the People’s Daily, noted that Mao Zedong once used the term “authoratative figure” to hide his name when publishing articles in the People’s Daily in the 1940s that attacked Chiang Kai-shek, who lost the civil war and fled to Taiwan in 1949. “Even though such articles were not actually written by Mao himself, they doubtlessly reflected the intention of China’s top decision-maker and even his personality and style,” it said.