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Lenin’s Chinese Heirs

For Xi, Politics Comes First and Economy Second

The Great Hall of the People, the venue of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, is pictured in Beijing, November 9, 2012. Petar Kujundzic / Reuters

For 35 years, the central issue confronting China’s leaders has been a primarily economic one: how to assure a continued run of rapid economic growth. Indeed, so important was China’s quest for growth that it became, in effect, the leadership’s default solution to a vast array of political and social challenges in the post-Mao era. Consider, for example, the challenge of forestalling revolt and maintaining political stability. Beijing’s apparent strategy to assure public support for an unelected ruling party was to deliver rapid growth, raise living standards for millions of Chinese, and thus co-opt potential sources of discontent. Or take foreign policy, where Beijing leveraged growth and sheer market power to build ties in Asia and around the world.

Yet if economic policy lies at the center of Beijing’s priorities, then one would logically expect China’s leaders to redouble their focus on it as growth

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