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Matthew Brooker

Xi Jinping May Be Leading China Into a Trap

“Common prosperity” has been portrayed as an effort to reduce income inequality and reassert core Communist Party values. In reality, it risks leaving the country stuck at middle-income status. 

Stuck in the middle.

Stuck in the middle.

Photographer: Yan Cong/Bloomberg

An ancient Mesopotamian tale tells of a servant in Baghdad who meets Death at the marketplace. Terrified by Death’s menacing expression, he takes his master’s horse and flees to Samarra. Later, the master sees Death and asks why she made a threatening gesture to the servant. Death replies that it was only a start of surprise. “I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

It's a parable with relevance for China's development dilemma. In early 2012, the World Bank and the Development Research Center, a think tank under China’s State Council, released a 473-page report that spelled out the reforms the country would need to undertake to avoid the “middle-income trap” and ascend to the ranks of high-income nations. China had reached a turning point in its development path, then-World Bank President Robert Zoellick told a press conference in Beijing. “As China’s leaders know, the country’s current growth model is unsustainable.”