Fears that Xi Jinping is bad for private enterprise are overblown

FOR a moment it seemed China was reverting to Maoist economic management. On the sidelines of the Communist Party congress this month, an official told Xi Jinping that her village distillery sells baijiu, a potent spirit, for 99 yuan ($15) a bottle. Mr Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao, remarked that this seemed a bit dear. The chastened official thanked him and pledged to follow his guidance. But Mr Xi gestured her to stop. “This is a market decision,” he chuckled. “Don’t cut the price to 30 yuan just because I said so.” The audience, perhaps relieved that Mr Xi had no intention of dictating the price of booze, broke into laughter.

This rare spot of levity at the dreary five-yearly congress was telling. The occasion cemented Mr Xi’s unrivalled position at China’s apex. For companies, the question is what he will do with it. His vision can seem ominous. In a speech laying out his plans, he made it clear that the party is all-powerful.

On his watch the party has already reasserted control over state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and sought influence in private ones. It has called on entrepreneurs to be patriotic. And regulators have cowed swashbuckling businessmen, from Wang Jianlin, a property mogul formerly China’s richest man, to Wu Xiaohui, an insurance magnate who fancied himself the…

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