More Questions About China

More Questions About China

As Alex Kliment wrote in your Tuesday edition of Signal, Xi Jinping has moved to eliminate the two-term constitutional limit on China’s president, allowing him to remain formally in charge beyond the end of his current term in March 2023. I’m opening your Friday edition on the same subject, because this is a very, very big deal.


Multiply China’s growing international power by Xi Jinping’s domestic political control, and Xi is already the most powerful man on Earth. This week, he began the process of removing the most important remaining check on his authority.

Questions to consider:

  • Should the rest of the world be happy about the predictability that comes with continuity at the top of the Chinese government? Maybe. Given China’s growing importance for the global economy, and China’s need for big changes in its economic and financial systems, shouldn’t we be glad that a self-professed reformer has minimized the risk that lame-duck status will undermine his ability to get things done? It’s not like China would otherwise become a democracy.
  • This story matters for all of us. In 1990, China accounted for just 1.6 percent of global GDP. By 2016, it had surged to 14.7 percent, second only to the US. In 1996, China invested just $2 billion beyond its borders. By 2016, that number had climbed to $217 billion. Given the worldwide economic implications of China’s rise, don’t we all need China to succeed?
  • Or maybe has Xi created a new sense of urgency within the party among those who fear his power and oppose his reform plans? Has he forced rivals to try to more actively sabotage his agenda or even to move against him?
  • At what point does Xi start thinking more about protecting his power than about building China’s future?
  • What happens if Xi fully consolidates power, but reforms fail, the economy sinks, and China has no clear alternative to his leadership? What sort of power struggle might that unleash?

We know there’s heightened caution in Beijing this week, because online government censors are suddenly very busy. You won’t have much luck if you try using any of these phrases on Sina Weibo (China’s version of Twitter) this week:

  • “Long Live the Emperor” (Pretty obvious)
  • “Constitutional rules” (None of your business)
  • “Animal Farm” (George Orwell says hi)
  • “Winnie the Pooh” (Don’t mock the president)
  • “I disagree” (Don’t think of debate)
  • “Emigration” (Don’t think of leaving)

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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Colin Powell's legacy

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