Underperforming Chinese province wants to ’emancipate’ minds to spur economy

By Thomson Reuters Feb 20, 2024 | 2:25 AM

BEIJING (Reuters) – Communist Party cadres in a southern Chinese province called for a change in old mindsets and an “emancipation of the mind” in the search for solutions to economic woes, as grassroots officials launch a new push to improve sluggish local economies.

Made famous by former reformist leader Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, the slogan “emancipating the mind” also features in a rallying call for reforms by President Xi Jinping, made during his inspection tours of provinces and at key policy meetings.

About half of China’s provinces posted lower-than-targeted economic growth in 2023 due to a nationwide property crisis, cautious consumption and falling private sector investment.

The International Monetary Fund has said China’s growth would slow in 2024 to 4.6% from last year’s 5.2%, before easing further to about 3.5% in 2028.

In an apparent show of its resolve to overcome last year’s difficulties, the government of the southern province of Hunan has set a 2024 growth target of “around 6%”, after last year’s growth of 4.6% missed an official goal of about 6.5%.

“Emancipating the mind” is key to coming up with innovative ideas to reverse sluggish development, Hunan’s provincial Communist Party committee said at a meeting on Sunday.

Officials must shift away from “simplistic glorification” of growth rates, reverse their unwillingness to endure pain during the province’s transformation, and avoid building up excessive debt, it added.

“The ‘lying flat’ mindset of doing nothing to avoid trouble must also be reversed,” it said.

The committee’s comments appear to be a call to think out of the box, but China watchers say any new ideas will have to keep within the bounds set by Xi, who has repeatedly voiced concern over uncontrolled expansion of capital markets.

The term “emancipation of the mind” also figured in provincial party meetings in northeastern Liaoning and Heilongjiang on Sunday, the first working day after the long Lunar New Year break.

Premier Li Qiang called on Sunday for “pragmatic and forceful actions” to boost public confidence, though China has yet to unveil bold measures to turn around its economy.

At the annual parliamentary meeting in early March, Li is expected to unveil a national growth target of about 5% for 2024, similar to last year’s.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Ellen Zhang and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)