As the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress concluded last weekend, the markets opened the week with Chinese stocks down sharply. Commentators around the world view the event in which Xi Jinping established himself as the undisputed authority as a watershed event in global geopolitics. Yuen Yuen Ang, a professor of political science and an award winning author of two books “How China escaped the poverty trap” and “China’s Gilded Age”, helps us understand how we should read this event and the implications for the world going forward in this guest essay for the NYT.
She reckons it is a reversal of the reforms brought in by Deng Xiaoping four decades ago which brought immense economic prosperity to the country.
“Deng Xiaoping’s strategy for China’s spectacular economic achievements had two main components. The first was a collective leadership arrangement within the Communist Party. Deng rejected Western-style democracy, but China’s tumultuous decades under Mao Zedong had taught him that one-man rule is dangerous. He and the party introduced partial checks and balances into politics at the highest level, including term limits. The second component was a single-minded pursuit of economic growth that, Deng famously declared, would be China’s “hard principle.” Officials throughout China dove headlong into promoting growth at all costs — bringing prosperity but also corruption, inequality and heavy industrial pollution.
Last week in Beijing, Mr. Xi dismantled those foundations. He ensured that he would remain paramount leader of China for a third term — if not for life — and packed the party’s leadership with loyalists while heavily prioritizing national security over the pursuit of economic growth.”
So, why would Xi Jinping change courses?
Yuen Yuen Ang answers it from a political, economic and foreign policy perspective:
“Politically, he probably fears the proverbial knife in the back after making enemies through a decade-long anti-corruption campaign in which thousands of officials — possibly including potential political rivals — were punished and is doubling down on repression out of his instinct for self-preservation.
On the economic front, he faces smoldering crises, including an economy that is slowing sharply, a property sector meltdown and record-breaking youth unemployment. These problems have been exacerbated by the Covid controls and by Mr. Xi’s “common prosperity” campaign — a strategy for narrowing inequality and addressing monopolistic behavior by big tech firms and other private companies, which was punctuated by an abrupt and sweeping regulatory crackdown last year that has alarmed investors. The market backlash was intense: Within months, more than a trillion dollars in value at many of China’s most innovative companies evaporated.
On foreign policy, Mr. Xi has projected an ambition to challenge American primacy. The Trump administration’s chaotic handling of the pandemic prompted Mr. Xi to boast that “the East is rising and the West is declining.” But his triumphalism was premature. China is far from an even match with the United States in economic, military or technological power. And while American democracy is in crisis, the United States remains strong, a true superpower and a free country able to criticize and renew itself. Mr. Xi criticizes the West for seeking to contain China, but his hubris and aggressive approach helped bring about this threat.”
So what are the implications for the world at large:
“The consequences of his decision to emphasize security over economic vibrancy will be global. China is the world’s second-largest economy and the biggest trading partner of dozens of countries. A prolonged economic slowdown in China will increase the risk of a global recession, with many countries sharing the pain. In the long run, there may be winners as China’s waning competitiveness hastens a shift in global supply chains to other emerging economies.”
She ends by reminding us of the frailties of an autocracy:
“China under Mao and the former Soviet Union proved that absolute dictatorships fail miserably at making nations prosperous and strong. They bring only impoverishment and false security.”
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