Communist China has tirelessly pursued economic growth for decades and has produced more billionaires than the United States, lifting 800 million people out of poverty but leaving another 600 million to live on $150 a month.
Now President Xi Jinping is planning what some experts call a dramatic change by attempting to restructure Chinese society by cracking down on the country’s newly formed super-rich and distributing the wealth more equitably among its 1,400 million population.
The campaign includes plans to “regulate excessively high incomes” and “encourage high-income earners and businesses to return more to society,” as Xi of the state news agency Xinhua read at a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party.
While his motto of “common prosperity” was nothing new to Chinese leaders, Xi’s speech last month was the clearest example of his obvious plan for a reformed society.
Some experts believe that behind the goal of better income equality for the party there is an entitlement to self-preservation. For years the Communist Party has placed its legitimacy on growth that surpasses that of any other major economy; Now that this is slowing down, you may feel like you are offering a new promise: equality.
“The Chinese government recognizes that both national and international audiences are watching,” said Austin Strange, assistant professor of politics at Hong Kong University. “This is an opportunity to present yourself as a forward-thinking government that cares about its citizens, including those at the bottom of the wealth distribution.”
As part of the Communist Party’s broader vision for the future, the government has introduced regulatory action against Chinese tech giants who have disrupted Western financial markets.
But efforts go beyond economics and encompass everything from limiting video game hours to minors to trying to end a fan culture in which teenagers “blindly idolize celebrities,” the party-controlled global newspaper Times reported last week.
This message resonates with Cao Xinyin, 19, a college student in Beijing whose community – a city dweller with a university education – wants to keep the Communist Party on its side.
“Common prosperity means everyone can live a quality life,” he said. “People will live healthier lives, behave better, have a happier mood, and be more likely to pursue and achieve their dreams.”
Others, however, are not convinced.
Shaun Jiang, 28, a former owner of an education company in southwestern Chengdu that recently closed, said common prosperity was little more than a political slogan without “a clear roadmap and feasibility”.
However, Xi’s attempts to control the market are unprecedented, according to Bill Bikales, a New York-based economist who spent years working in China on economic policy for various United Nations agencies.
“This is a rather unusual situation,” he said. “It is surprising to what extent Xi believes that the role of the market can be restricted again and again.” It has moved away from former Chairman Mao Zedong’s Marxist zeal and adopted reforms that opened up its economy and helped make it today’s world power.
According to the World Bank, more than 800 million people have been lifted from extreme poverty since 1978, and more than half of the population is now middle class. As of last year, there were 1,058 billionaires in China compared with 696 in the US according to Hurun Report, a Shanghai-based organization that takes the statistics of China’s affluent people.
Although forecasts predict that China’s economy could outnumber the US by 2028, the country also has one of the highest income inequalities of any major world economy.
About 600 million people, almost double that of U.S. Population – They are still living on the equivalent of around US $150 a month, said Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang last year.
“The wealth gap is quite big in China,” said Jiangnan Zhu, associate professor of politics at Hong Kong University. “A crucial pillar of the political legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party,” said Strange of Hong Kong University
Now that “the era of breakneck economic development is over,” said Ryan Hass, a member of the Washington Brookings Institution think tank, “Chinese leadership is shifting its focus to improving the quality of life as the new source of health. The legitimacy of Achievement” “.
Meanwhile, Beijing has come under increasing criticism from abroad on a variety of issues, including its increased military activity around Taiwan, the tightening of control over Hong Kong, and its treatment of Uighur Muslims, which the United States and others have described as an act of genocide.
Some tech giants have responded to government crackdown by pledging money for philanthropic welfare programs. One of China’s largest corporations, Tencent Holdings Ltd., has pledged around $ 15 billion for a range of initiatives, ranging from the environment to education and rural reforms to only technological support for the elderly is sufficient.
Tencent said the move was a direct response to “China’s Wealth Redistribution Campaign”.
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., another Chinese tech giant, promised a similar amount on Thursday.
Along with a revised tax and welfare system, Xi may plan to use such large donations as a central engine for its reforms, said Vivian Zhan, associate professor of politics at the Hong Kong University of China.
The Communist Party has “many policy tools to regulate big business and mobilize resources for redistribution and other political ends,” he said.
The joint prosperity campaign, however, faces other challenges such as corruption, the eradication of which was the focus of a year-long campaign by Xi. According to Transparency International, more than 60 percent of Chinese still believe that corruption is a big problem, a non-profit association based in Berlin.
“Common prosperity is a good idea, nice to hear, but difficult to implement,” says Qin Guiying, 52, who used to work as a farmer in Sichuan Province but now works in a car wash in Beijing.