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Economic Bailout with Chinese Characteristics: Controlling Public Opinion on the Economy

China’s economy slowed significantly in 2022 due to multiple headwinds including COVID-19 impacts, strained international supply chains, over-regulation of sectors (e.g. real estate), and weak domestic consumption. Against this backdrop of negative economic news, Chinese authorities have stepped up propaganda efforts and media controls to bolster public confidence.

At a recent meeting, the CCP Politburo stressed the need to “strengthen economic propaganda and public opinion guidance” on the economy. State media like People’s Daily and Xinhua have since published unequivocally-upbeat commentaries, quoting Xi Jinping’s reassurances about progress towards high-quality development and solid progress in overcoming the post-pandemic transition. Such overtly-promotional coverage aims to shape perceptions now that growth has slipped below targets.

Starting in 2021, officials shut down many non-state social media accounts that were speaking negatively about the economy (“black mouth” accounts). In 2022, top finance influencers on the internet – Wu Xiaobo, Ren Zeping and Hong Hao – faced speech bans despite their large numbers of followers. Economic analysts suspect such muzzling of dissenting voices will now further intensify, aiming to suppress doubts about the official claims regarding economic recovery.

Authorities are blaming China’s current economic struggles on external factors like US-China ties and global supply chains. Domestic weaknesses remain apparent – the long-troubled property sector still drags heavily, and Chinese consumers have become thrifty amidst uncertainty conditions.

As 2024 begins, Xi Jinping has clearly prioritized projecting strength and stability regarding growth prospects, given the recent Politburo directive to reinforce propaganda and guidance.

Source: Central News Agency (Taiwan), December 11, 2023