Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

China’s prospects for 2024: Relaxation of political and economic control is the key
TAKAHARA Akio / Professor, Graduate Schools for Law and Politics, The University of Tokyo

January 31, 2024
There will be many important elections in the world this year. Following the Taiwan presidential and parliament election held on January 13th, presidential elections will be held in Indonesia in February. Further, there will be the general election in the Republic of Korea in April, and the presidential election in India from April to May. After the European Parliament election in June, November 5 will be the voting day for the U.S. presidential election, which is sure to attract the maximum attention.

This brings back the memory of the U.S. presidential election in 2016. Donald Trump, considered by many to have little chance of success, rapidly gained momentum as people looked on in amazement, and won. In the spring of that year, I had the opportunity to travel to China with about a dozen U.S. Senators and Congress members and their spouses. They spoke in unison about the people’s anger that pushed Donald Trump to the top and the decline of the power of the United States.

What puzzled me was how little confidence these lawmakers had in their own country. I could understand to some extent the anger felt by the poor whites left behind by globalization. But the decline of the power of the United States? I asked them in what respect, and they said the fiscal deficit, for example. However, the United States has abundant human resources in science and technology as well as natural resources. It is also blessed with a rich natural environment. The aging society, which troubles Japan and China, is still a long way off.

One possible cause for their loss of self-confidence could be the waning vigor felt all around and the narrative that causes such perception. In particular, in contrast to the image spread around of a “rising” China, the story being told was about a “sinking” United States. Donald Trump’s slogan MEGA (“Make America Great Again”) sounded like revealing the underlying perception that the United States had ceased to be great.

Xi Jinping’s advocacy of “the China Dream of realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” looks at first glance similar to MEGA, but its image is that of continuous rise. The Chinese Communist Party has a specialized department called the Propaganda Department which is masterful at impression management and manipulation. In this age of SNS (social networking services), there was a period in which the collapse of information control was talked about as a possibility. However, with the advance of monitoring technology, social networks continue to be controlled.

Amid all this, an unfamiliar-looking warning was issued by the Ministry of State Security in December 2023. Perhaps taking a cue from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s use of SNS, the Ministry opened an official account in the mobile phone app “WeChat” last summer. In that account, they referred to the economy, which lies outside their domain, and said that it was necessary to respond to challenges from overseas to achieve economic recovery.

According to the Ministry, people with ulterior motives are fabricating the falsehood that foreign capitals are excluded or private enterprises are being suppressed. They talk about China’s decline to create a ‘narrative trap’ or a ‘cognitive distortion’ to encircle China strategically and contain its development.

The day before that, Weibo, the micro-blogging service, sent notices to some users warning them to “avoid expressing pessimism about the economy.” This appeared to be a move reflecting the view of the authorities that negative news should not be disseminated, out of concern that people’s perceptions and feelings would affect the trend of the economy. In a way, this was also a case of impression manipulation.

The editorial of the Weekly Caixin (https://weekly.caixin.com/editorial/)of December 25, 2023, took issue with the Weibo notice. The main points of the editorial are (a) During the Cultural Revolution, despite the economy nearing collapse, official narratives claimed “everything is great and getting better.”; (b) Current challenges like the weakening growth of the private economy, fragile social expectations, financial risks, and pressing social security issues are not only crucial for national policy but also affect people’s livelihoods; and (c) One should recall that after the death of Supreme Leader Mao Ze Dong, Deng Xiaoping asserted that we must emancipate our minds and seek truth from facts. Only by adhering to truth can we confront challenges. These are very pertinent appeals.

This editorial has been deleted from the internet. But people’s mouths cannot be shut unless truth is adhered to and chaos is rectified. In reality, there is excessive productive capacity and private investment is declining. The task of increasing the income of low-income people has to be grappled with. According to the data published by Beijing Normal University in 2021, there were more than 960 million people with income not more than 2000 renminbi (about 40,000 yen).

China has neither presidential nor general elections. It has promising industries such as electronic vehicles. However, if left as it is, people’s discontent will worsen. The key to China’s prospects for 2024 is the economy. To regain the momentum, what is needed is not public opinion management but relaxation of political and economic regulations.

Akio Takahara is a professor at the Graduate School for Law and Politics at the University of Tokyo. This is a reposting of the article that appeared in the morning edition of Mainichi Shimbun on January 14. 2024.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

2024年中国の展望 政経の統制緩和がカギ
高原 明生 / 東京大学大学院法学政治学研究科教授

2024年 1月 31日


不思議に思われたのは、自国に関する議員たちの自信のなさだ。グローバル化に取り残された貧困白人層の怒りはある程度理解できるとしても、力の衰えとは? 具体的に何が問題なのかと聞けば、例えば財政赤字だという。だが米国は科学技術の人材や天然資源が豊富な上、自然環境も豊かで日本や中国を悩ます社会の高齢化はまだ先の話だ。









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > China’s prospects for 2024: Relaxation of political and economic control is the key