Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s China Brief, and happy holidays. The 2020s so far feel like China’s lost decade: The economy is slowing down, and young people are disillusioned and jobless. An insecure President Xi Jinping sits at the top of everything. It’s been a difficult year for Beijing, and the next one isn’t looking much happier. Below, we rounded up five predictions for China in 2024. People cheer while waiting for the Democratic Progressive Party candidate Lai Ching-te during a campaign rally in Pingtung, Taiwan, on Dec. 21. Taiwan holds a presidential election on Jan. 13, and the year could start with a small crisis in the straits. Current Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te, who serves under President Tsai Ing-wen and is a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), holds a narrow lead in the polls. His election would ire Beijing; he is an advocate for a more independent Taiwan and is strongly opposed to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A Lai victory would likely prompt aggressive moves from Beijing, including naval maneuvers and airspace intrusions. Reports last week about comments made by Xi to U.S. President Joe Biden about reunification with Taiwan when they met in November stirred some panic in Washington, but an invasion remains highly unlikely. Housing prices in China have teetered on the brink for years, and 2024 could be the year they finally go over the edge. The crisis among property developers this year was bad enough. There is now a big discrepancy between official housing price indexes and what real estate will actually fetch on the market; prices are sliding by at least 15 percent in many cities and by as much as 30 percent in Beijing. A couple of high-level Chinese leaders fell in 2023, namely Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Defense Minister Li Shangfu. Mandatory adoration can’t stop him from feeling insecure—or from recognizing that many people blame him for the state of the country. That insecurity also affects the rest of the leadership, whose lives, wealth, and freedom depend on Xi’s whims. Last week, Associated Press reporter Dake Kang shared a pair of Weibo messages to his account that captured the public mood change in China in the last three years. Nationalistic education primed them for the feelings of pride and triumph that came with an apparent victory over COVID-19 in the summer of 2020, when China returned to relative normality while the rest of the world took shelter. But frustration with China’s zero-COVID policy in 2021 and 2022, mixed with the economic crisis, have left the public, and especially the young, feeling very differently. In 2024, pessimism about the future, already clear at the beginning of the decade, is only likely to get worse. There is little ability to offer young Chinese the kind of future they want. The successful summit between Xi and Biden in San Francisco in November, which both sides seem to have regarded as a victory, provided a temporary cooling-off period for a relationship that was heading downhill for years. Structural tensions between the two powers are intense enough that some new crisis will inevitably cause China to revert to so-called wolf warrior mode, especially since it’s such an easy way for Chinese diplomats to advance their own careers. The real danger may be Chinese attempts at election interference.

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