The Great Hall of the People, where the Chinese Communist Party plenum was held, is seen behinds red flags in Tiananmen square in Beijing, November 12, 2013.
Kim Kyung-Hoon / Courtesy Reuters

In early November, as Beijing braced for the Communist Party’s Third Plenum, the high-level conference that would decide major policies for the next decade, President Xi Jinping appeared to deliberately raise expectations for major economic reforms. He spoke of a “comprehensive” reform plan and invoked Deng Xiaoping, the man who changed history by overhauling China’s economy and politics at an earlier Third Plenum, in 1978.

Yet no sooner had the plenum closed and the party released its initial communiqué than observers dismissed the meeting as a bust. Markets slumped. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 1.9 percent, to its lowest level in ten weeks. The Shanghai Composite lost 1.8 percent. Many commentators argued that China’s leaders, faced with their first big test, were disinclined -- or else too timid -- to undertake the sweeping economic reforms that Xi had promised.

But then the verdict abruptly shifted with the release

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