Security personnel standing outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, October 2022
Thomas Peter / Reuters

For most of the past four decades, economic development has been the Chinese government’s lodestar. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has implicitly justified its rule by pointing to expansive growth. Indeed, since the Chinese leadership first unveiled an annual growth target, in 1985, the target has essentially been met or exceeded each year, except in 1989.

There was once a good reason for this practice: it offered the CCP a way to encourage lower-level officials to pursue development at a rapid but manageable rate. But over time, hitting the annual target fueled wasteful spending that produced unsustainable debts, empty buildings, and

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