roach164_PEDRO PARDOPEDRO PARDOPOOLAFP via Getty Images_china development forum PEDRO PARDO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

China Stifles Its Own Debate

For more than two decades, the China Development Forum was a meeting where foreign business, political, and academic leaders could debate the state of the Chinese economy with the country’s highest leaders. But this year’s gathering eschewed open and honest dialogue, in favor of telling only “good stories” about China.

NEW HAVEN – After my recent trip to Beijing to attend the 25th annual China Development Forum (CDF), the country’s most important public conference, one question keeps turning over in my head: What’s the point?

I raise this question as a CDF insider – as the longest-attending foreign delegate, having participated in all but the first CDF in 2000. I have witnessed this event at its best and its worst. I can say with certainty that this year’s gathering marked a new low – hence my question.

Former Premier Zhu Rongji conceived of the CDF as a forum for debate and exchange between senior Chinese leaders and foreign academics, think-tank experts, and business leaders. The timing of the conference – immediately following the National People’s Congress (NPC) – was deliberate: Zhu held the provocative view that the ministers of the State Council should engage with outside experts immediately after their internal deliberations at the NPC. It was, in effect, a stress test for senior Chinese officials.