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China Overview: Beijing’s 2024 Forecast

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welcome to foreign policyChina Briefs, and have a great vacation.

The 2020s feels like a lost decade for China so far. The economy is slowing, young people are disillusioned and unemployed, and parents are watching their property values ​​crumble. An unstable but still dominant President Xi Jinping sits at the top of everything. This year has been a difficult year for Beijing, but it looks like next year will not be as happy. Below, we have compiled his five predictions for China in 2024.

People cheer while waiting for Democratic Progressive Party candidate Lai Ching-de at an election rally in Pingtung, Taiwan, on December 21st.
People cheer while waiting for Democratic Progressive Party candidate Lai Ching-de at an election rally in Pingtung, Taiwan, on December 21st.

People cheer while waiting for Democratic Progressive Party candidate Lai Ching-de at an election rally in Pingtung, Taiwan, on December 21st.Annabelle Chee/Getty Images

Taiwan will hold a presidential election on January 13th, and the year could start with a small crisis in the Strait. Taiwan’s current vice president, Lai Ching-de, who works for President Tsai Ing-wen and is affiliated with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is leading by a narrow margin in opinion polls. His selection will infuriate Beijing. He is an advocate of a more independent Taiwan and strongly opposes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Lai has said he has no intention of calling for formal independence for Taiwan or dropping the name of the Republic of China, which is a red line for Beijing, but that Taiwan’s sovereignty is a “fact”. He also reminded his fellow candidates that by Beijing’s standards, they are a Taiwanese nation. All are supporters of independence.

Mr. Lai’s victory is likely to prompt Beijing to take aggressive action, including maritime maneuvers and airspace violations. Reports last week about comments Xi made to U.S. President Joe Biden about reunification with Taiwan during a meeting in November caused some panic in Washington, but the possibility of an invasion remains highly unlikely. That would be risky and difficult, especially as China faces other crises.

Even if Taiwan’s opposition party, the Kuomintang, wins on January 13, some problems may arise. Although the Kuomintang is more pro-Beijing than the Democratic Progressive Party, it is unlikely to hand over the keys to the island to the Chinese government. Chinese officials may be overestimating the significance of the Kuomintang’s election victory, viewing it as a sign of Chinese influence on Taiwan. In a recent survey, 17% of Taiwanese voters said China was their main concern, but more than twice that number chose the economy.

China’s housing prices have been hovering on the brink for years, and 2024 could be the year they finally cross the threshold. This year’s crisis among real estate developers has been serious enough to affect businesses once considered relatively safe, such as Country Garden. There are many other failed real estate projects, but what the Chinese government is really afraid of is falling house prices. After all, 70% of China’s household assets are invested in real estate.

The government appears to be trying to falsify data and intimidate commentators to stop people from talking about how bad China’s economy really is. Currently, there is a large discrepancy between official housing price indexes and real estate prices that can actually be sold on the market. Prices have fallen by at least 15% in many cities, and up to 30% in Beijing.

As these trends spread, even official numbers may need to be more grounded in reality, triggering a broader crisis of trust.

In 2023, several senior Chinese officials, Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Defense Minister Li Shangfu, were ousted. The full extent of both dismissals remains unclear, but even though Mr. Xi filled the top post with supporters last year, the politics of the Chinese Communist Party’s top leadership looks uncertain heading into the new year.

That’s not surprising. Although Mr. Xi is competent in party politics, his governance has been bad for China, especially over the past three years. His obligatory adoration doesn’t stop him from feeling anxious or realizing that many people blame him for the state of the country. This anxiety also affects other leaders whose lives, wealth, and freedom depend on Mr. Xi’s whims. All these tensions are likely to produce some dramatic politics next year.

Much has been said about factions and alliances, but in some ways the politics of the Chinese Communist Party resemble the dynamics of organized crime. Friendship doesn’t matter when a knife comes out. If there is any significant movement against Mr. Xi, it may come from people he promotes or sponsors.

A woman rests at a table during a job fair in Beijing on June 9.
A woman rests at a table during a job fair in Beijing on June 9.

A woman rests at a table during a job fair in Beijing on June 9.Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Last week, Associated Press reporter Dake Kang share A pair of Weibo messages sent to his account captured the shift in public opinion in China over the past three years. In June 2020, I received a message from an unknown man telling me to “get out of China.” This month, the account simply wrote, “I’m sorry.”

Many young people in China have followed the same path in recent years. Nationalistic education evoked in them the feelings of pride and victory that came with the apparent victory over COVID-19 in the summer of 2020, and while the rest of the world evacuated, China remained relatively It returned to normal. That sentiment has coalesced with growing hostility toward the West, especially the United States, and pandemic conspiracy theories blaming the United States have taken root.

However, due to the combination of dissatisfaction with China’s zero-coronavirus policy in 2021 and 2022 and the economic crisis, the sentiments of the people, especially young people, have changed significantly. One sign of this change is the sharp rise in Chinese public opinion toward the United States. This is a coded way of expressing dissatisfaction with the Chinese government’s policies. 2024 is likely to exacerbate the pessimism about the future that was already evident at the beginning of the decade.

Deflation in popular nationalism and the dire economic outlook for young graduates appear to be contributing to the rise in depression among 18- to 24-year-olds in China. In December 2022, young people’s frustration and anger exploded when China experienced the largest mass protests in recent years against its zero-coronavirus policy. Although it is unlikely to happen next year, cynicism and a desire to flee to other countries (among those with the resources to do so) will continue to fuel so-called lunology in 2024.

One of the main reasons the Chinese Communist Party turned to suppressing dissidents a decade ago was the belief that the party was losing young people. The government’s response to this new affliction will likely be to insist on further displays of forced patriotism and increased censorship of online spaces. (2023 ends with the next set) game limits.) There is little ability to provide young Chinese people with the kind of future they want.

The November summit between Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden in San Francisco was a success and appeared to be seen as a victory by both sides, but it also provided a temporary cooling period in a relationship that had been heading downhill for years. . Importantly, it includes resuming high-level military talks between China and the United States. Anti-American rhetoric remains relatively muted but consistent in Chinese state media.

Don’t expect it to last. The structural tensions between the two countries are so intense that any new crisis will inevitably force China to revert to so-called wolf warrior mode. Especially for Chinese diplomats, this is a very easy way to advance their careers. However, this attitude is unlikely to reach his 2020 heights. China has enough other problems to avoid the risk of causing major problems for the time being.

There are always concerns that anti-China rhetoric from Washington could sour relations in an election year. But the truth is that American voters don’t seem to care about China at the polls. The real danger may be China’s attempts to interfere in the election. It is likely aimed at specific politicians in areas with large Chinese voters, but likely following a pro-Donald Trump line.

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