China reform pledges show Xi assuming Deng mantle: analysts

China reform pledges show Xi assuming Deng mantle: analysts

BEIJING - By claiming authorship of broad reform pledges after repeated conservative pronouncements, China's President Xi Jinping is assuming the mantle of Deng Xiaoping, who oversaw both huge economic changes and the Tiananmen crackdown, scholars say.

Days after the conclusion of a key gathering known as the Third Plenum, China's Communist Party leaders unveiled a list of sweeping changes to economic and social policy.

They included reforms to the country's land ownership system, loosening controls over state-owned enterprises, relaxing the controversial one-child policy and eventually shuttering forced labour camps.

The 22,000-word document explicitly declared Xi as head of the group charged with its drafting - a marked departure from previous administrations that suggests he is linking his own personal prestige to the planned changes, according to experts.

"It was pretty surprising," said Barry Naughton, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and an expert on China's economy. "He said, 'I was the head of the writing group.' That's a very strong and unambiguous thing to say, and there's also the fact that he said it rather than leaving it unsaid."

In a story Tuesday on the way the decision was drawn up, the official Xinhua news agency mentioned Xi 21 times, while Premier Li Keqiang was not named at all.

Like Deng, the man who led China from 1978 to 1992 and launched the country's boom following the death of Mao Zedong, Xi has made economic reform a top priority, experts say.

Deng is viewed as having steered China politically further towards authoritarianism, but some scholars argue that he actually envisioned greater restructuring of the political system.

Xi's first year in office has seen a high-profile campaign to tackle graft and a revival of some Mao-era practices such as "self-criticism sessions" for public officials.

"Xi Jinping in a way actually seems to think that he can take the current political system and instil it with a little more discipline and a little more mass supervision and a tough assault on corruption, and I guess combine that with economic reform," Naughton said.

"So, in a way, that's more Dengist than Deng, because it's a more active pursuit of the political side of it."

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