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The closed-door meeting of some of China’s most powerful economic mandarins this fall was getting tense.

Their boss, President Xi Jinping, was already unhappy he was taking the blame for the economic gloom that had settled over China this summer, and it was their job to come up with ways to fix it.

Officials from the state planning commission at the Sept. 22 meeting in a conference room at the agency’s headquarters called for the kind of big spending on airports, roads and other government projects that Beijing had relied on to rev up the economy in recent years, according to internal minutes...

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