Tsinghua economist Hu Angang. Photo: Handout
Tsinghua economist Hu Angang. Photo: Handout

A Yale-groomed economist at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University who is seen as one of the top advisers in macro-economics to the central leadership is feeling the heat after a group of 27 Tsinghua graduates petitioned for his dismissal.

Hu Angang and Tsinghua management could have shrugged the call off had it not been for reports in state media about the spreading broadside against Hu’s integrity and academic competence within the country’s top academia.

Hu, head of Tsinghua’s Institute of Contemporary China Study, caused a stir in his research papers claiming that China’s national strength had already matched or even surpassed that of the US on all fronts. His assertions, which his critics claim were based on some flawed data collection and analytics, reportedly scored not a few brownie points in Zhongnanhai as President Xi Jinping aimed to adopt a more self-assertive rule to project China’s newfound heft overseas.

“China has overtaken the US in all respects,” Hu proclaimed in a speech at a seminar hosted by the CITIC Foundation for Reform and Development Studies in April 2017.

According to him, China surpassed the US in economic power in 2013, in technology in 2015 and in overall competitiveness and strength as early as in 2012. And as of 2016, China’s economic power, research and development capabilities and overall strength were 1.15, 1.31 and 1.36 times those of the US respectively, ranking first in the world.

Several incumbent and retired officials including Long Yongtu, a former trade minister and now secretary beneral of the Boao Forum for Asia, have opened salvos against such notions, but Hu insisted that it required not only academic professionalism but also courage to carry out his research.

Hu is said to have advised former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji, and his research findings and nationalist stance are also favored by Xi and his coterie.

But some observers believe Hu’s overconfidence in China’s strength and competitiveness could have somehow misled top policymakers as they mulled policies for the Belt and Road Initiative and countermeasures to US tariffs on Chinese goods.

Hu’s conclusion has challenged common sense, Tsinghua alumni who demand his ouster have said.

More than 500 Tsinghua alumni had agreed to sign the petition as of Thursday, the Beijing-based Global Times cited a source in the university as saying.

Tsinghua is yet to respond to the petition.

Rhetoric such as “China surpassing the US” is popular at a time when nationalist sentiments are widespread, read a commentary on the Chinese news portal sohu.com.

Hu’s remarks, which were packaged as academic research, made him an “academic opportunist,” the commentary said. It suggested the university investigate the alleged academic misconduct of Hu.

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