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China’s Pro-Growth Happy Talk

A robust economic recovery in China would require the country’s leaders to find ways to improve relations with the West and launch a credible political, legal, and economic reform program. But despite official vows to boost growth, no such agenda is on the horizon.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – The Chinese government seems to have fallen back in love with economic growth. As the chaotic exit from its zero-COVID policy has unfolded – leading to tens of thousands of deaths (at least) – the country’s leaders have been eager to profess their undying devotion to robust economic recovery. But lip service alone will get China nowhere.

Last month’s Central Economic Work Conference – the annual meeting where the top leadership of the Communist Party of China sets the economic-policy agenda for the next year – established growth as the government’s top economic priority in 2023. In the weeks that followed, the public was treated to a spectacle not seen in years, as provincial governors fell over themselves to echo the CPC’s commitment to growth and reassure jittery private investors and entrepreneurs.

The political motivation for this shift is obvious: the CPC hopes to restore public support, after popular frustration with draconian zero-COVID restrictions gave way to dissatisfaction with the botched exit from the policy. But it will mean little unless the government translates its pro-growth rhetoric into action.