Opening ceremony of a photo exhibit marking the 40th anniversary of China's Reform and Opening. (Photo by Zhang Wei/China News Service/VCG)

December will be a busy month for Xi and the PRC leadership.

What's happening: The annual Central Economic Work Conference, which sets the agenda for the next year's economic policies, is likely to convene next week. But the big event will be a major meeting to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the "Reform & Opening" policy that started at the 3rd Plenum of the 11th Party Congress on Dec. 18–22, 1978. I believe that meeting may be on the exact 40th anniversary of that famous 3rd Plenum and will see a big speech by Xi and a noteworthy propaganda and theoretical blitz.

My thoughts: At the risk of sounding naive, is it possible that we are close to another significant turning point in PRC history? Will Xi finally make significant steps to fulfill the reform promises of the 2013 Third Plenum as well as promises he is likely to make later this month as part of the anniversary commemorations?

  • Has pressure from the Trump administration combined with domestic pressures to not be the PRC leader who oversees a complete break in U.S.-China relations moved Xi to a place where he both needs to start delivering on reform and also sees an opportunity to use them for political benefit?
  • I am not talking about a reversal of the growing trend of ideological control and repression, or political reform, but rather a much more significant effort to deliver on some of the long unfulfilled promises of economic reform.
  • Any shift to deeper economic reforms will not address the growing contradiction of the central state-owned enterprises, the encroachment of the party back into all aspects of life, nor would it lessen the focus on technological self-reliance. But even a return to a messy and imperfect implementation of deeper reforms might still unleash a lot of economic activity, innovation, and value creation.

Another question: The U.S. and China established diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979. How will that 40th anniversary be commemorated given the increasingly tense relationship?

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