If Beijing wants an innovative economy, it must free Chinese minds

If Beijing wants an innovative economy, it must free Chinese minds

  • As China emerges from the coronavirus into a confrontation with the US, sticking to Deng Xiaoping’s path of reforms and opening up is as vital as ever
  • Enterprise and technological innovation need a free flow of ideas and opinions. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening

“Emancipate the mind, seek truth from facts and unite as one in looking to the future.” In December 1978, Deng Xiaoping delivered a historic speech with this inspiring title, which set the tone for China’s reforms and opening up.

Less than two years later, on August 26, 1980, China approved the formation of its first special economic zone in Shenzhen, then a sleepy fishing village across the border from Hong Kong.

Having marked its 40th anniversary on Wednesday, Shenzhen certainly has a lot to celebrate. In 40 years, it has become China’s most successful example of reforms and opening up. Its economy overtook that of Hong Kong in 2018, among many other accomplishments.

As Shenzhen, and China as a whole, contemplate and plot the path forward for the next five years or even longer, Deng’s exhortations on “emancipating the mind” and “seeking truth from facts” still resonate today.

Again China is at a critical juncture. As Chinese President Xi Jinping has put it, the world is undergoing profound changes not seen in a century, which are being accelerated by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

China may become the first major economic power to emerge from the pandemic and return to normal but it faces an increasingly hostile international environment characterised by an all-round confrontation between Washington and Beijing.

At home, concerns are rising that the leadership’s decision to pivot to the domestic market and consumption will come at the expense of opening up.