Finally, after months of speculation, we have a date for the most anticipated political event of the year: The Third Plenum. Yes, that’s right. This plenum should surpass in importance even the National People’s Congress that ushered in China’s new leadership lineup in March. Why’s that? Because these new bosses have had time to sip some tea, play some Chinese chess in a garden and think about ongoing reform in what is truly shaping up to be the only confluence of a superpower and an ancient civilization.
The Third Plenum has traditionally followed the Second Plenum, a meeting where officials dye their hair black and get pedicures. Before the date was announced this week, it was unclear if the next meeting would be Plenum 2.5 or if they would just jump directly to the Eighth Plenum, skirting all precedents laid down by Deng Xiaoping and then by Jiang Zemin during previous Third Plenums (Hu Jintao kind of dropped the ball at his Third Plenum when he said all science must be scientific).
No responsibilities will be dodged this time around. On the contrary, reforms are already in the works. At some point last week, one of the seven members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo looked out of his window in Beijing and realized that it was dangerously polluted outside. Thus, the government will try to figure out if heart attack-inducing levels of pollution have an effect on human health (CER doubt there’s any connection).
Word on the street is, despite state oil firms’ ability to literally rake in the cash (their accountants use the gardening tool to move piles of renminbi around), PetroChina could get broken up. State banks should also be wary of reform. Their bad loans are surging, profits missing expectations. They are perfect targets for Premier Li Keqiang and his reform axe. The Shanghai free trade zone is another sign of unprecedented reform. Reform of what? We’re still not sure. The list of “don’ts” for the zone at least told you what wasn’t changing.
Reform is coming from every direction, moving in every direction, dead sure to shake things up beyond all recognition and force you to question the nature of reality. As one commentator told CER this week, 35 years ago “raising a chicken in your backyard was considered a counter-revolutionary offense.” Today we’re strutting around in Prada loafers. Tomorrow? Who knows? Look to the Third Plenum, held in Beijing November 9-12. Seating will be limited to the first 200 top-level officials through the door.
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