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The Closing of the Chinese Mind

Lou Jiwei is a hard-charging reformer with an illustrious record of accomplishments. The Chinese government's decision to dismiss him from his post as chairman of the national social security fund underscores the dangerous ways in which President Xi Jinping has transformed decision-making in China.

WASHINGTON, DC – Lou Jiwei may not be a household name in the West, but the former Chinese finance minister is well known and highly respected among financiers and economic policymakers. Yet, earlier this month, China’s government announced Lou’s dismissal from his post as chairman of the country’s national social security fund. The move reflects a change in the Chinese leadership’s approach to governance that is likely to have profound implications for the country’s future.

The removal of Lou from his post represents a break from precedent: his three predecessors served 4.5 years, on average, and all retired after reaching 69. The 68-year-old Lou served for only a little over two years. China’s leaders did not provide a reason for sacking him, but a likely explanation stands out. Lou has recently emerged as an outspoken critic of China’s ambitious industrial policy agenda, Made in China 2025, calling it a waste of public money.

Made in China 2025 had already aroused suspicion among China’s Western trading partners. They view the program as an effort by China to use unfair means – namely, government support for strategic sectors – to displace the West as the world’s leader in advanced technologies. The scheme was one of the factors that precipitated US President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.

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