Speculation is rife that Xi wants to curb debt-fueled growth before it destroys the economy and oust premier Li Keqiang. But experts suggest a more complex picture of leaders scrambling to fix the same problem

(From the Guardian)

By Tom Phillips in Beijing

It was hardly a headline to set the pulse racing.

“Analysing economic trends according to the situation in the first quarter: authoritative insider talks about the state of China’s economy,” read the front page of the Communist party’s official mouthpiece on the morning of Monday 9 May.

Yet this headline – and the accompanying 6,000-word article attacking debt-fuelled growth – has sparked weeks of speculation over an alleged political feud at the pinnacle of Chinese politics between the president, Xi Jinping, and the prime minister, Li Keqiang, the supposed steward of the Chinese economy.

“The recent People’s Daily interview … not only exposes a deep rift between [Xi and Li] … it also shows the power struggle has got so bitter that the president had to resort to the media to push his agenda,” one commentator said in the South China Morning Post.

“Clear divisions have emerged within the Chinese leadership,” wrote Nikkei’s Harada Issaku, claiming the two camps were “locking horns” over whether to prioritise economic stability or structural reforms.

Li and Xi

The 9 May article – penned by an unnamed yet supposedly “authoritative” scribe – warned excessive credit growth could plunge China into financial turmoil, even wiping out the savings of the ordinary citizens.

As if to hammer that point home, a second, even longer article followed 24 hours later – this time a speech by Xi Jinping – in which the president laid out his vision for the Chinese economy and what he called supply-side structural reform.

“Taken together, the articles signal that Xi has decided to take the driver’s seat to steer China’s economy at a time when there are intense internal debates among officials over its overall direction,” Wang Xiangwei argued in the South China Morning Post. Like many observers, he described the front page interview as a “repudiation” of Li Keqiang-backed efforts to prop up economic growth by turning on the credit taps. Read more

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