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Xi's No Good, Very Bad Summer

Xi's No Good, Very Bad Summer

Back in March, Xi Jinping was riding high. Wielding more power than any Chinese leader since Mao, he was feeling good about China’s handle on North Korea and ready to stand toe to toe with Donald Trump on trade. One long, hot summer later, and Xi faces a reality check, with growing pressures on three fronts:


First, there’s the US-China trade fight. On Thursday, the Trump administration plans to slap tariffs on $16 billion worth of Chinese goods, the latest twist in the trade spat between the world’s two biggest economies. Beijing has promised to respond in kind, but the weakness of its tit-for-tat approach is starting to show. China only imported about $130 billion worth of goods from the US last year, so it will struggle to match the US dollar for dollar if Trump follows through on a threat to impose tariffs on an additional $200 billion of its goods. A mid-level Chinese trade delegation due in Washington this week is unlikely to come away with a deal – Trump believes his confrontational strategy is working and is unlikely to back down. It’s clear that this conflict isn’t playing out as Xi had hoped.

The second problem is Xi’s emboldened domestic critics. This summer the Chinese leader faced unusually public grumbling about his leadership style, including concerns about the return of a Mao-like personality cult. Some critics also fear that Xi misstepped by openly stating the country’s ambitions for global leadership, inviting a backlash that could ultimately hurt China.

Finally, there’s growing pushback against China’s aggressive plans for overseas investment, including Xi’s signature Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. During a state visit to Beijing this week, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed said he would cancel over $20 billion of Chinese infrastructure deals struck by his predecessor amid fears they would saddle his country with too much debt. Belt and Road projects may also face fresh scrutiny in Pakistan, where borrowing to fund a massive Chinese road and rail buildout has contributed to the substantial economic woes facing newly installed Prime Minister Imran Khan.

None of this will threaten Xi’s grip on power, but his no good, very bad summer has exposed a gap between the Chinese leader’s seemingly all-powerful public persona and the messy reality of managing a would-be superpower. In a top-down system like China’s, a leader’s perceived weakness can make it easier for rivals to obstruct his plans or ignore orders that threaten their interests. Heading into the autumn, Xi needs some wins to shore up and justify all the power he’s taken so much time and trouble to amass.

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Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

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On Tuesday night, you can finally watch Trump and Biden tangle on the debate stage. But you TOO can go head to head on debate night .. with your fellow US politics junkies.

Print out GZERO's handy debate BINGO cards and get ready to rumble. There are four different cards so that each player may have a unique board. Every time one of the candidates says one of these words or terms, X it on your card. First player to get five across wins. And if you really want to jazz it up, you can mark each of your words by taking a swig of your drink, or doing five burpees, or donating to your favorite charity or political candidate. Whatever gets you tipsy, in shape, or motivated, get the bingo cards here. It's fight night!

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Watch Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

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Join us tomorrow at 11 am ET for a GZERO Town Hall livestream event, Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic, to learn about the latest in the global hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Watch here at 11am ET: https://www.gzeromedia.com/events/town-hall-ending-the-covid-19-pandemic-livestream/

Our panel will discuss where things really stand on vaccine development, the political and economic challenges of distribution, and what societies need to be focused on until vaccine arrives in large scale. This event is the second in a series presented by GZERO Media in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group.

Apoorva Mandavilli, science & global health reporter for the New York Times, will moderate a conversation with:

  • Lynda Stuart, Deputy Director, Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director, Energy, Climate & Resources, Eurasia Group
  • Mark Suzman, CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Gayle E. Smith, President & CEO, ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development

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