Communication Breakdown Over China’s Reforms

Communication Breakdown Over China’s Reforms

Last week, the former Mexican ambassador to China scolded China-watchers for reading too much, too confidently into the Rorschach-blottish news from last week’s Third Plenum. At Bloomberg, Damien Ma argues that Beijing’s own interests lie in adopting a clearer style of communication:

Put off by an almost comically vague initial communique, the Beijing confab was quickly derided as a giant “nothingburger.” Just two days later, however, after Chinese officials released a more detailed list of reforms, opinions swung wildly. Suddenly the plenum was hailed for producing some of the most significant proposals in decades — everything from relaxing the one-child policy and abolishing labor camps, to giving farmers more control over their land, migrants more rights and services, and the market more of a role in disciplining state enterprises.

This whiplash lurch in opinion holds two lessons for China. First, major statements such as the plenum communique carry a global significance perhaps rivaled only by the U.S. State of the Union address.

[…] Second, the vagueness with which Chinese communiques are written produces confusion. This might seem useful on occasion: Deng Xiaoping pioneered the strategy of “signaling left and turning right” to throw off potential opponents. But more often, opacity simply allows anyone and everyone to see what they want to see — not what the leadership hopes to signal. [Source]

Further illustrating the lack of clarity, Reuters’ Li Hui and Sui-Lee Wee report that the Plenum announcements have spawned a private industry and government department dedicated to decoding them:

The most expensive course is taught by a consultancy called China Finance City that offers the public one-day training on “the interpretation of the plenum decisions”. Four lectures cost 8,800 yuan ($1,400).

“People all over the country are paying close attention to the decisions, they want to understand what the policy implications and orientations will be,” Wu Yushan, the manager of the consultancy, told Reuters by telephone.

“There is a huge demand in the market.”

[…] The party’s Central Committee has also set up a propaganda team, whose members include various ministers and directors of powerful offices, to prepare lectures about the reforms. The team will give lectures across the country from Saturday. [Source]


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