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China’s Xi and Li at Odds on Street Vendor Economy

China’s Premier Li Keqiang recently pushed for a “street vendor economy,” encouraging people to set up street stalls as tens of millions have lost their jobs. However, the media in Beijing city and even the official mouthpiece did not follow suit. The Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has reportedly issued a directive requesting the media to delete past reports that promote Li’s proposal. It is believed that the discord highlights a disagreement between Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang’s economic policy.

During his trip to Yantai, Shandong, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang praised the street vendor economy as the vitality of China. For a time, the words “street stalls,” and “night market” became a hot topic among the people and the media.

Even before the heat died down, first-tier cities, including Beijing and Shenzhen, clearly stated that they are not suitable for a street vendor economy. Beijing Daily, the mouthpiece newspaper of the CCP committee in the capital city, published a commentary article on June 6, claiming that the street vendor economy is not suitable for Beijing. “As the capital of the country, Beijing carries the national image. As the country’s first super-scale city, it has its own functional positioning and management requirements.”

The official website of the Shenzhen city government posted an article entitled, “Forget about ‘Setting up the Stalls!” The article said, “At present, Shenzhen has not yet promulgated any management measures for the ‘street vendor economy’ and will not announce any locations for temporary stalls.”

China Central Television (CCTV), the CCP’s official TV network, followed up on June 8. It said that for large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, refined management is the right way and that major first-tier cities have not “blindly followed the trend.” It added that some cities have “clear minds” to say no to chaotic street vendors.

Radio Free Asia quoted some insiders from Beijing’s official Xinhua News Agency that, on the evening of June 4, executives from major official media received an injunction from the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department and began to delete previous reports (that promoted the street vendor economy). The Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization, a CCP commission in charge of brainwashing, withdrew previous official documents on the street vendor economy.

A Chinese independent scholar, Wu Qiang, reported that Hong Kong based Apple Daily, believed that this was an expression of the debate on whether the central government should strengthen or relax economic control after the epidemic. Li Keqiang has been promoting economic freedom policies such as reducing government approvals and giving the market a free hand; but Xi Jinping has continued to intervene to strengthen control of the economy. The two were always at odds.

On June 9, Frédéric Lemaître, a reporter from the French newspaper Le Monde, wrote that people believe Li Keqiang is more inclined toward the market economy, while Xi Jinping prefers a regulated economy through large state-owned enterprises. Li once said that China “still has about 600 million people whose monthly income is only 1,000 yuan (US $141), not even enough to be able to rent a room in an ordinary city.” His words stirred up a lot of discussions and also cast a shadow over Xi Jinping’s boasting about China’s anti-poverty “success.”

Source: Radio Free International, June 14, 2020