China’s economic mastermind promises blue skies and controlled debt in 3 years

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Liu He 刘鹤, one of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s closest advisors who is often described as the mastermind or “brain” behind China’s economic policy, took a turn speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 24, where Xi himself made a splash last year.

Like Xi, he made lofty rhetorical commitments to the idea of globalization, in the process implicitly criticizing Donald Trump’s nationalist policies and likely winning favor among the global elites in attendance. Back home, Xinhua News Agency was much more direct in this messaging, arguing that we need to make a choice between a “Shared future or America First,” and crediting Xi’s speech last year with inspiring this year’s Davos theme: “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.”

Liu also made some specific and striking promises:

  • Within three years, China will clear up its smoggy skies, Liu said, because “green and low-carbon development is what the Chinese people and people across the world want the most.” See Quartz for more.
  • Within three years, debt will be under control, and “we have full confidence and a clear plan to get the job done,” Liu added. See the New York Times for more (paywall).
  • China’s economy will gradually open up to foreign investment and imports in 2018, the fortieth anniversary of China’s “reform and opening-up.” Some measures will even “exceed the expectations of the international community,” Liu added.

On that last point, it won’t take much to exceed expectations of foreign businesspeople and economists, because expectations are so low. See a couple reactions (1, 2) by economist Christopher Balding to Liu’s promises for context.