China warns party members not to criticise policy ahead of major policy meeting


The report said “public statements that contradict the decisions of the Central Committee are absolutely not allowed”.

It added that public comments that “irresponsibly discuss” the party’s main policies, “disrupt the thoughts” and undermine the unity of party members, warning that those who hinder policy execution must be “dealt with strictly”.

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Explaining its rationale, the report said the party leadership “fully listened” to different voices before it made a decision, and once it had decided all party members “must resolutely implement” that policy.

It also said there were internal party procedures that should be used to address any problems that may arise.

The disciplinary message came weeks ahead of the third plenum – a key meeting of the party’s Central Committee next month that will set the country’s economic strategy for the coming five years.

The event was moved back from its customary time slot in the latter months of last year, possibly to give the leadership more time to prepare in the face of growing economic headwinds.

The event is expected to be one of the defining moments for President Xi Jinping’s third five-year term as the party’s leader.

Its outcome is also likely to play a major role in determining whether the country can avoid the increasingly obvious middle-income trap – where rising costs and declining competitiveness prevent emerging economies reaching high-income status – and reach the party’s goal of becoming an innovation-driven developed economy.

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The country is also facing multiple challenges on other fronts, including the property crisis, sluggish growth, tariffs from the United States and the European Union’s de-risking strategy.

In the run-up to the plenum senior leadership figures have been touring the country to solicit opinion on economic policy, including Xi himself, who held a rare meeting with business leaders in Shandong province and pledged to carry out further reforms.

“Now, as the third plenary session is about to be held, the central leadership undoubtedly wants to control the pace of the discussion,” said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.

“The talk of reforms suggest that everyone is encouraged to speak out, but the ban on public criticism is a stark reminder that dissenting voices will face consequences,” he said.

Deng Yuwen, former deputy editor of Study Times, the Central Party School’s official newspaper, said the message being sent was “everyone should unify their thoughts before the Third Plenary Session and do not say anything that does not align with the central leadership’s main themes and spirit”.

He said: “Disciplinary moves of this kind are nominally confined to the party, but it is always the aim to regulate society as a whole.”

The rules against public criticisms were included in a major revamp of the party’s disciplinary code in 2015 that tightened its control over the membership.

The first person to fall foul of such a charge was Zhao Xinwei, the former editor-in-chief of Xinjiang Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece in the far-western region.

He was expelled from the party in 2015 for a series of charges including openly opposing key policies aimed at combating terrorism and extremism.

Since then, more than 16 officials have been placed under investigation on suspicion of publicly speaking or going against major party policies, according to a report by the official newspaper Legal Daily in 2021.

Such moves have heightened fears the party is further chipping away at differences of opinion in line with the wider trend of tightening access to information and data.

James Zimmerman, a partner in international law firm Perkins Coie and former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said “any attempt to unreasonably and dishonestly control the storyline will only further erode Beijing’s credibility”.

He said foreign businesses already had doubts about the credibility of China’s official data and information, and restrictions on policy discussions would further dampen investor and consumer confidence.

China has strongly hit out at questions about its future economic prospects, but last year when the country’s youth unemployment rate hit an all-time high, China’s national statistics agency simply stopped issuing the data. It said it needed to make adjustments and resumed publication six months later.

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Nis Grunberg, a China analyst with the Berlin-based think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies, said the decreasing opportunities to speak out or gain access to opinion were not conducive to academic research or building business confidence.

“I don’t think obsessive streamlining of information and only making one single message available is good for business confidence or trust,” said Grunberg, adding that it is clear that Beijing wants everyone to speak with one voice.

He said the lack of transparency and trust in Chinese information also hinders academic research because it is hard to verify or test any assumptions.

“Now the third plenum is approaching and nobody knows what’s coming, really,” said Grunberg.

“So it’s very clear that everyone is supposed to stick to the official line and not to stir up some assumptions or even demands for [the reforms that are] coming.”



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