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Feb 2, 2024, 12:38pm EST
East Asia
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What Xi Jinping’s new catchphrase means for China and the world

Insights from Beijing Youth Daily, Financial Times, Xinhua, and The Atlantic

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The News

Chinese leader Xi Jinping wants to increase Beijing’s focus on innovation in science and technology to drive economic growth, analysts said, citing the repeated use of a new phrase in speeches and policy meetings.

Xi first emphasized the need for “new productive forces” during a September trip to the northeastern city of Harbin, where he declared the need to foster “new energy, new materials, advanced manufacturing, electronic information” to promote “high-quality development.”
The term was more recently the central focus of a Chinese Communist Party Politburo study session, where Xi said that the country will begin to “break free from traditional economic growth modes” and lean on new technology and sciences to grow, state-run China Daily reported.

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China wants ‘high quality’ talent to spearhead this change, but it has run into some issues

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Sources:  
Beijing Youth Daily, South China Morning Post, Axios

The term “new productive forces” signifies a “significant increase in total factor productivity,” a Beijing Youth Daily article noted. It said that workers would need to increasingly focus on “innovation, the key is high quality.” Xi has moved to pour more funds into scientific research in the face of growing competition with the United States. Part of this strategy includes drawing overseas talent to China or recruiting Chinese researchers back home through government-sponsored programs. These efforts have been slammed by U.S. officials for being equivalent to “intellectual property theft and espionage,” Axios reported last year, in large part because some recruits were encouraged to remain at their affiliated U.S. institutions while also working in China.

China wants to achieve ‘self-reliance’ but also says it won’t close its doors

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Sources:  
Financial Times, Xinhua, The Atlantic

China has since 2018 called for “achieving scientific self-reliance” by limiting its dependence on foreign suppliers of technology – but the country’s ability to achieve this goal depends “on whether researchers have the space to think critically and creatively,” Yu Jie, a Chatham House China expert, wrote in the Financial Times. China’s scientific success thus far has been “a direct result of frequent exchanges and connectivity with the scientific community globally,” Yu continued, something he argued would only happen if allowed by the Communist Party. At least in public, Xi has insisted that China will not “adopt a closed-door policy.” In talks last year with New Zealand’s prime minister, the Chinese leader said: “Only by opening up can China realize modernization.” Other observers see China’s goal of “self-reliance” as purely a way to counter pressure from the U.S., though. “What Xi really wants is freedom of action, unfettered by American power, rules or criticism,” Bejing-based writer Michael Schuman argued in The Atlantic.

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