A new year is a time for fresh starts and new beginnings. At least, that is what policymakers in Beijing will be hoping. The second half of 2018 produced some negative headlines on the economy as a domestic deleveraging drive and the intensifying trade war with the US slowed growth and undermined confidence. Will these headwinds continue battering the Chinese economy or will Beijing be able to engineer a recovery? There are few people better placed to answer this question than Shen Jianguang, one of China’s most respected economic analysts, whose career has included stints at the European Central Bank, IMF and OECD.
On a remote farm nestled deep within the mountainous region of Daozhen, in China’s southwestern Guizhou Province, thousands of chickens are being watched closely. Aided by surveillance cameras and distance-tracking ankle tags, every step, meal and sip that the chickens take inside their paddock is uploaded in real time to an online platform. This farm, along with hundreds like it across China, is part a program that gives consumers a direct data trail from egg to plate. Launched by the technology arm of online insurer ZhongAn in 2017, it aims to boost transparency in China’s food supply chain. The technology behind GoGo Chicken is blockchain.
The rapid deterioration in relations between China and the US over the past 12 months has left many scratching their heads and wondering how we got here. Stephen S. Roach is not one of those people. A former Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley and currently Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Roach has been watching the development of Chinese-US relations closely for more than three decades. For him, a tariff war between the world’s two largest economies was as predictable as it is harmful.
The Sino-US trade tussle has had the greatest impact on multinational corporations in China—precisely the group that the US started out trying to support. Many have begun considering radical courses of action to stay in business.
After years of enjoying the fruits of a booming economy and sharply rising disposable income, life for many of China’s higher earners is getting harder. Amid mounting debt levels and economic headwinds, urban middle-class consumers have responded by scaling back their discretionary spending and reducing luxury purchases—an emerging phenomenon known as the “consumption downgrade.” The newfound frugality of middle-class spenders may be good for their wallets, but it is an unwelcome development for Beijing.
For many in Beijing, the trade war confirms long-held suspicions that the United States is determined to thwart China’s rise as the world’s next superpower. As a result, US demands that China abandon Made in China 2025 have also tended to be viewed by Beijing as being motivated not by concerns over fair competition, but by a desire to make sure America keeps its lead in the global innovation race. Public statements from senior figures in the Trump administration have fueled these concerns—the trade war not as an isolated incident, but part of a longer history of US attempts to undermine rival powers.
“Human beings cannot see with their eyes in absolute darkness, but they can see with their mind,” says Cai Shiyin, an entrepreneur who started the social enterprise Dialogue in the Dark in China.
Tattoo culture has exploded in China in the last few years, as the country’s younger generations abandon centuries-old prejudices against the practice and embrace it as an expression of individuality. Chinese millennials are getting tattoos in record numbers, but some are being forced to keep them hidden.
Pronouncements that the Belt and Road Initiative is failing are premature, argues Tom Miller, author of China’s Asian Dream and Senior Asia Analyst at Gavekal Research. He is well-versed in the problems facing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and predicted many of them. In his 2017 book China’s Asian Dream, he warned that China’s preference for cultivating close relationships with individual leaders could be a long-term risk for BRI. Eighteen months on, this looks prescient. New governments have won power in Malaysia, Pakistan and the Maldives, and renegotiating deals signed by their predecessors are high on the agendas.
What a difference a year makes. Last summer, there was a sense of unstoppable momentum behind the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s trillion-dollar plan to build a network of infrastructure connecting Africa, Asia and Europe. When China hosted its 2017 Belt and Road Forum, 29 heads of state and delegations from another 100 countries traveled to Beijing, hoping to cash in on what President Xi Jinping described as the “project of the century.” This year the landscape, at least from the media’s perspective, looks dramatically different as even China’s closest partners make more cautious noises about the BRI.