Backlash – China in 2020
ChinaFile asked me and some other China people for our predictions about the coming year. This was mine:
“Backlash” is the word for China in 2020.
Engagement, progress, friendship, admiration, prosperity—the arc of change for China has moved, with the horrific exception of Tiananmen and its aftermath, in a steady, consistent, and predictable direction. Until now.
With head-spinning velocity, the global mood towards Beijing has turned to fear, suspicion, anger, horror, and distrust.
Some of that is based on new, stunning issues, like the mass incarcerations and human rights abuses based on ethnicity and religion in Xinjiang. Much of the backlash comes from decades of Western frustrations that regulatory difficulties, piracy, and unequal and unfair playing fields have repeatedly thwarted dreams of trading and investment riches. And much is emotional: lawmakers frightened by China’s rise, pundits heartbroken that China didn’t evolve into their desired state, and viewers startled by violent protests and riots in Hong Kong, an East-meets-West place they thought they knew well.
Whatever the reasons, many governments around the world are taking new, harsher views of Beijing and Chinese companies. Beijing isn’t used to this. Many Western companies are re-evaluating their investments in and commitments to China—and in many cases, opting for a change. Low-cost manufacturing can be done elsewhere; lower-risk investing too. China’s huge domestic market and many tempting advantages remain, but the downsides seem to loom larger today than in the past couple of decades. Beijing’s plans didn’t include this.
China’s soft power attempts to build a better image have rebounded on it in stunning ways, because of tone-deafly harsh diplomatic responses, cruel tit-for-tat arrests, and harassment of citizens of the ever-growing number of countries not currently on the friend list.
The backlash has begun. It’s swift. It’s comprehensive. And it will have a host of increasingly important and serious implications for China’s economy, stability, and global engagement, and for the world economy, as supply chains and strategic plans are rethought and reworked.
Most importantly, this backlash has implications for world peace, as conflict areas such as Taiwan and the South China Sea take on a heavy and unpredictable emotional component in addition to the pragmatic, rational considerations of the past.
The whole conversation can be found here . Check back in December!