In China, developments have been faster in the last 40 years than anywhere else in the world and there is no sign that this fact is changing.
Three main challenges are currently creating serious problems for mankind: climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently the start of what is called Cold War 2.0., started by the attempted military occupation of Ukraine by Russia.
The Chinese ruling party and government under the ever-increasing single-handed leadership of Xi Jinping have reacted to these challenges in a way that appears more arbitrary and less active than in the past.
After Xi announced at the Glasgow conference in November 2021 a major reduction of carbon dioxide pollution by coal-fired energy production, the government set new maximum pollution levels, coal production was reduced, coal prices were rising but the sales prices of energy remained fixed.
As a result in several provinces and cities electricity was shut down temporarily for lack of energy or turned off completely towards the end of the month when the maximum was reached, sometimes without any warning. In effect, regulations had to be turned back to pre-Glasgow conditions.
With respect to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by its neighbor Russia, many experts and governments declared that Xi Jinping was the only person who could successfully influence President Putin to stop the war, handing him a golden opportunity to change the image of China from bully to mediator and to enhance his personal standing as a responsible global politician bringing peace to the world. Instead, China keeps sitting on the fence, neither openly supporting the Russian invasion nor condemning it, neither stopping the anti-NATO postings supporting Russia on Chinese social media nor appearing in video calls with European leaders or the president of the United States to bring any constructive ideas to the table.
Finally CoViD-19: Even with the menetekel of Hong Kong SAR on the wall, the Chinese government did not change the Zero-case policy or at least start to prepare for a change, as proposed by several major Chinese experts (and the rest of the world). With Omicron B.A.2 making its appearance all over China, lockdowns and isolation wards remained the instruments used. By the time of writing, almost all of Shanghai is facing a continuous lockdown with workers having to sleep in the factory or office, families not allowed to leave their apartments and children who tested positive taken away from their parents if they are not also had a positive test result. With numbers increasing, there is a natural limit to the capacity of isolation stations in hotels, stadiums or fairgrounds.
The Shanghai city government will have to give up, just as the Hong Kong government did, as some point soon. Carrie Lam, the leader of the Hong Kong SAR administration, is not running for a second term, it was announced this week. There will be very likely changes in the city government of party leadership of Shanghai as well, however, such change of faces will not bring about a change of substance.
Why does China appear to play its card not as sophisticated and timely anymore as it did on many occasions in the past years? One possible answer could be that there is so much attention needed for the preparation of the XX. Party congress in October or November, everything happening beyond the corridors of power inside and outside Zhongnanhai is relegated to the second level of short-lived attention. Not only is Xi Jinping seeking a third term in office and a new No. 2 for China has to be selected, there is also the more substantial question if there is a danger of a combination of large numbers of CoViD-19 deaths, an economic recession, and a possible food shortage will encourage the inner-party opposition to attack the current leadership head-on. Measures and counter-measures for the preparation of such a putsch would certainly be seen as more relevant than any foreign policy maneuvers and would make it harder to follow the Shanghai government in apologizing for a lack of preparation for a sensible CoViD-19 policy.
However, who can say if this is just speculation supported by fake news distributing forces or if this is a correct description of the current situation of China’s political situation? The North Korean government has been forecasted a hundred times to fall tomorrow and is still in power. The Soviet Union and its government appeared stable from the outside and disappeared within months. That the greeting “May you live in interesting times” is actually a curse has never been clearer than today.
As always, all best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the whole COTRI WEEKLY team!