Land media rehash Zhao Ziyang’s talks with U.S. economists, leading to speculation

“On the eve of June 4, the mainland media published an old article about a conversation between former Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and the famous American economist Milton Friedman, which sparked speculation.

On May 27, mainland NetEase published an article titled “A Rare High-Level Conversation with a Huge Amount of Information (No Nonsense, No Master Showdown)” on the WeChat public website “Economics Blackboard”, which reproduced the transcript of the conversation from the book “Friedman in China” published in Hong Kong in 1989.

The article refers to “General Secretary Zhao” in its entirety, without mentioning Zhao Ziyang’s full name. According to the article, Zhao Ziyang said that price reform is now necessary to deepen reform. However, further price reform has given rise to difficulties, namely the apparent emergence of inflation.

Zhao Ziyang talked about the fact that whether it is price reform or the fight against inflation, it boils down to solving the problem of the mechanism of enterprises and improving their internal efficiency. The future reform of enterprises, one is the implementation of the separation of two powers, one is the implementation of the shareholding system, clear property rights.

According to Zhao Ziyang, to carry out the reform should solve three problems: price reform; governance of inflation; and the implementation of enterprise shareholding system.

Friedman, on the other hand, said that central decentralization is a key, and the more decentralization, the better. There is only one way to curb inflation, and that is to restrain the money supply, which in China means printing less money. He believes China’s inflation problem is not investment or consumption, but that too much money is being printed.

Friedman believes that liberalizing prices and implementing price reform does not cause inflation. If official prices are low but you can’t buy things, they are not actually low. He said that the most crucial issue of reform is not to “glue” halfway, not to advance or retreat.

On September 19, 1988, Zhao Ziyang and Friedman met in Beijing, arranged by Hong Kong economist Zhang Wuchang. In that year, China’s economy was overheating again, and Zhao Ziyang, who was presiding over economic reform policies, was faced with the dual problem of price reform and corporate reform.

Friedman is well known for his advocacy of free market economics and was awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize in Economics. He visited China twice, in 1980 and 1988, with his wife. This book documents his two trips to China and his views on China’s problems.

On the eve of the 32nd anniversary of June 4, the mainland media published sensitive articles about Zhao Ziyang that attracted attention. Hong Kong current affairs commentator Liu Ruishao told Apple Daily that the rehashing of the above-mentioned article by mainland media on the eve of June 4 does not exclude that someone is “testing the climate,” but it does not mean that the official evaluation of Zhao Ziyang or the June 4 incident has been relaxed. “It remains to be seen whether Zhao Ziyang has been “desensitized” in mainland public opinion space.

On April 4 of this year, at the request of the authorities, Zhao Ziyang’s family moved out of No. 6 Fuqiang Hutong in Beijing for the Qingming Festival.

After the death of former Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, young patriotic students and the public launched a massive commemoration and demonstration that lasted nearly two months and was finally suppressed by the Communist authorities by force, which was the “June 4 Tiananmen Incident” that shocked China and abroad. Because of his sympathy for the students and his opposition to the Communist Party’s crackdown, Zhao Ziyang was removed from all positions within and outside the Party and spent the last 15 years of his life under house arrest, dying in 2005.

In the past, Zhao Ziyang’s name and topics have been taboo for official reporting by the Chinese Communist Party.