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What China’s party congress means for the average Joe

Kai Ryssdal, Jennifer Pak, and Shaheen Ainpour Oct 18, 2017
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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during the opening session of the 19th Communist Party Congress held at the Great Hall of the People today in Beijing.
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the 19th Communist Party Congress today in Beijing, delivering a more than three-hour speech. The party congress itself may be tough to decipher for many around the world, so Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal sat down with Marketplace Shanghai correspondent Jennifer Pak to discuss what the meeting of Communist Party heavyweights means for the average person on the street. 

Kai Ryssdal: If I’m the average guy in the street in China, and I’m walking in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing or frankly in Shanghai someplace, does this affect me, this meeting in any way? 

Jennifer Pak: Well, yes and no. All of the media you’re going to consume is going to be wall-to-wall coverage of this party congress. But in addition to that, there will be some inconveniences. If you like a particular program, an entertainment program, it might be shut down in the months leading up to this party congress. If you go to the airport — stepped up security across Shanghai. I was there last month. There was one police officer or security guard at every single street corner. It doesn’t really necessarily inconvenience me, but it certainly makes me aware that something big is happening and that is the thing across the country. You know something big is happening. In Beijing in particular, blue skies, how beautiful. They shut down all the factories nearby and so suddenly Beijing gets a little bit of a face-lift.

Ryssdal: Do they do things like the five-year economic plan and all that? I mean, is that what comes out of this thing?

Pak: Exactly. That is exactly why people are paying attention, because in China when you do business, there’s no hard and fast rules. It just depends. That’s basically the answer. So when these meetings happen, when the Communist Party actually comes out and informs the people what they’re doing, businesses, local and people who want to do business in China and also China watchers will go in, and they will parse through every single word in these speeches just to detect “is there a shift?” Because, and this is important, the companies and the businesses that are in line with the government’s goal, they may pitch off the back of these programs. They may think of better, faster approvals or easier access. The companies that are not in line with the government’s goals, now that’s when they have to watch out. And I’ll give you an example. The last five years, President Xi Jinping has a massive anti-corruption campaign. Guess what? Luxury handbag sales went down, restaurants holding lavish banquets, suddenly they saw a drop in their business. Casino revenues went down in Macau. So these businesses are suddenly impacted. So that’s why people care.

Ryssdal: What about American China watchers? Right? I mean, if I’m an American China lobbyist or if I do a lot of business over there, is this something I need to be aware of?

Pak: Yes. You also have to pay attention to every single word. Where is the country headed towards in the next five years? And also, who is in charge? Because within this pool of men, this very small pool of men who are governing the country, there may be the next president four or five years down the road. I mean, China’s a very tightly scripted country, and the whole reason that they’re trying to present all of this, you know, you see these men in black uniforms, the same shade of glossy black hair, that’s to show uniformity, that the country is united, when in reality, there’s lots of competition and conflicts within the Communist Party, within the central leadership, between the central leadership and the provinces, between the cities and the provinces. You know, you have lots of competing factors. And so that’s why these events are so highly staged and managed. 

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