China's Special Economic Zones (SEZ) have been in the news alot recently, with Shenzhen marking the 30th anniversary of its SEZ status on Monday (see an earlier post on this blog). This week (from Monday to Thursday) sees Xiamen SEZ play host to the Second World Investment Forum of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), where top political, business and organisational leaders are meeting to discuss the theme of “Investing in Sustainable Development”.
On Tuesday, the second day of the meeting, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping gave a keynote speech to delegates explaining China's current economic development and its plans for the future, with the translation being posted on the Xinhua website on the evening of the same day. In his statistic-heavy speech, Xi's speech emphasised the merits of China's 'opening-up' economic strategy of the last 3 decades, referring to it as a “win-win”. According to the Vice-President, China received 90 billion US dollars worth of foreign investment in 2009, with foreign enterprises now providing for 45 million of the country's jobs. In addition, it is the continued aim of the PRC to encourage further investment by foreign countries, through the promotion of a fair and open market and investment environment.
Xi Jinping's speech can be seen as a reflection of the Hu Jintao generation's attitudes to economic strategy. Unsurprisingly, it featured a reference to the current 'hot' political theme of scientific development, and emphasis the support at the top of the CCP for Deng Xiaoping's principle of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. However, with Xi also picked out by many people to be most likely person to succeed Hu Jintao when he steps down in 2013, Tuesday's address can also be interpreted as a statement of intent aimed to convey to top members of the Party his vision for China's future.
From the content of the speech, Xi appears to be in favour of the continuation of the post-Mao policy of 'opening-up'. However, the Vice-President also commented that China is “now in a new phase of reform and opening-up", with his aspirations for the PRC's economic future being focused on a programme of balanced development across the country as whole. Xi's commitment to furthering economic reforms will undoubtedly please the more liberal socialists in the CCP (much of the top leadership included), but in raising the issue of inequality amongst China's regions Xi is looking to carve out an approach to development unique to himself. Deng Xiaoping is remembered for the SEZs, Hu Jintao for the idea of scientific development, and by the looks of it Xi Jinping sees it as his mission to bring China's central and western provinces up the economic level of their southern and coastal counterparts. Whether or not this ambition will be realised will much depend on the outcome of the next Party Congress in 2 years time. Yet, for now, this speech cannot have harmed Xi's chances of securing the top job in Chinese politics.