Will the Chinese Government’s Latest Reforms Go Beyond Video Game Consoles?

How It Works
Oct. 29 2013 1:05 PM

We May Find Out Just How Much of a Reformer Xi Jinping Is Next Month

185466862
Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Photo by KOTA ENDO/AFP/Getty Images

Aside from the disconcerting events on Tiananmen Square, the big story in China today was the announcement that the Central Committee of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party will hold its Third Plenary Session from Nov. 9 to 12. (In one of the quirks of the Chinese political system, the exact dates of such events are often not announced until just a few days before.)

The session is highly anticipated by business leaders, political observers, and more than a few members of the government here. Third Plenary Sessions often mark significant political milestones dating back to the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in 1978. It’s typically when new Chinese governments have consolidated power and are ready to announce new economic policies. If President Xi Jinping plans to take the Chinese economy in a radically new direction, this is likely when we’ll hear about it.

Advertisement

One recent hint that Xi might be serious about hastening China's long "reform and opening up" process was the recent opening of an 11-square-mile pilot free-trade zone in Shanghai, a project heavily promoted by Premier Le Keqiang. Shen Danyang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, suggested to us today that the zone could be a laboratory of reforms that could be “scalable nationwide.” This is also somewhat in the spirit of Deng, who famously turned the southern city of Shenzen into a "special processing zone" for foreign firms in the 1980s as a test site for market reforms.

However, it’s still a bit unclear how ambitious the reforms in the zone will be and the rules governing it are still somewhat vague. (For what it’s worth, it’s not yet clear if the zone will have freer Internet access than the rest of China, as early reports suggested, but on the other hand we do know it will be the only place from which foreign firms will be authorized to sell video game consoles across China.) The exact nature of the zone and the government's plans for it might be one of the announcements to come out of the session.

It might not be wise to get too excited about the plenary. As the Washington Post recently noted, rather than bold reforms, so far “the emphasis in the party-controlled media has been on Xi’s efforts to clean up the Communist Party, reconnect with the “masses” and combat corruption.” But with sluggish economic growth looking like a more permanent condition, it might be time for the Party to think a bit bigger.

I’m currently in China with several other U.S. journalists on a reporting fellowship sponsored by the East-West Center and the Better Hong Kong Foundation.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

U.S. Begins Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How in the World Did Turkey Just Get 46 Hostages Back From ISIS?

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.