Confused Westerners, wondering how the Xi-Li leadership’s quasi-Maoist political initiatives square with its commitment to economic reform, will find their quandaries resolved by Zachary Keck’s excellent analysis in The Diplomat. Regardless of liberal assumptions to the contrary, enforcing Central Party discipline on China’s regional fiefdoms is tightly aligned with the reform agenda. (Realism in this regard is advanced by the acknowledgement that authoritarian liberalization is the only kind there has ever been, anywhere.)
Xi and the central Party’s authority over local leaders will go a long way toward determining the scope and extent of the economic reforms China undertakes in the years ahead. Xi and Li have both made it clear that they understand the nature of reforms China needs to sustain growth. Their ability to act on this understanding is a different matter entirely. Although they will face stiff resistance from many segments of society, local leaders are notable in that they are involved in nearly every major area of reform. […] Thus, overcoming local government resistance will be a crucial part of Xi’s ability to undertake the necessary economic reforms. Xi and the central leadership seem to understand this given their year-long effort to consolidate their control over provincial and other local leaders.
(The entire article is excellent — read it all.)