China can overcome the external challenges it is facing if the Communist Party leadership gives private companies more confidence that their investments and business will be protected, according to former Shenzhen chief Li Youwei.
Li, who helped spearhead the city’s fast-paced development in the 1990s, made the remarks in an article published in Wen Wei Po, a Beijing-backed newspaper in Hong Kong, late last month.
He said the biggest risk for China at the moment was not pressure from Western countries, but making the wrong decision and retreating from reform.
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The 82-year-old former Shenzhen party secretary is known for his reformist views and as a staunch supporter of late leader Deng Xiaoping. He has also long pushed for private entrepreneurs to take a bigger role in China’s economy.
“Some people say the US is applying maximum pressure on China and is just waiting for China to collapse,” Li wrote. “What will be the last straw? If China takes the wrong steps under such strong pressure.”
He said the “most obvious mistake” would be made because of leftism, a reference used by China’s ideologues for an emphasis on Marxist traditions and the supremacy of the state-owned sector.
“Whether [we can] steady people’s minds is of utmost importance at this critical juncture. And above all, it is most important to give private entrepreneurs confidence,” he wrote.
“[We need to] reassure them that they and their investments are safe and protected by the government and the law so they have no worries about building their businesses, investing and becoming successful in China,” he said. “In turn, [we will] see stable employment, and growth in finance, trade and investment in this country.”
Li said that while the private economy had grown significantly in China, legal protection for the sector remained inadequate.
It was not the first time that Li, who is from the northeastern province of Liaoning, has called for the private sector to take a bigger role in China, though some of Li’s previous articles have fallen foul of the state media censors.
Back in 1996, he wrote an article ahead of the party’s twice-a-decade national congress that called on its leaders to give formal recognition to the sector and include this in the party’s charter. His call went unheeded.
In 2012, he also pushed for greater transparency over the management of party officials and the introduction of rules that would require cadres to publicly declare their wealth and assets to help stamp out corruption – rules that were eventually introduced.
Gu Su, a professor of philosophy and law at Nanjing University, said Li’s latest remarks would resonate among the party’s reformist camp and noted that they came just weeks ahead of an important plenum later this month.
“It is interesting that this time he managed to publish this article in Wen Wei Po, a China-backed newspaper in Hong Kong,” Gu said.
“This must be a decision [by the authorities] made after some consideration – and this may suggest that Li isn’t just speaking for himself but also for other liberal and like-minded party members.”
More from South China Morning Post:
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This article Reformist calls for China to reassure the private sector ahead of key Communist Party meeting first appeared on South China Morning Post