2020: A Pivotal Year for China

China’s leadership faces its most daunting challenges since the immediate post-Mao era
December 19, 2019 Updated: December 26, 2019
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Commentary

“A wounded bear (or panda, in this instance),” the old saying goes, “is more dangerous than a healthy one.”

The idea behind that widely applicable aphorism is simply that weak or cornered adversaries are more likely to act in more desperate and unpredictable ways. As a result, they pose greater risks to their competitors.

It’s a generalization, to be sure, but there is some wisdom to it as well.

2019: The CCP’s Very Bad, No Good Year

That’s not to say that the regime in China is feeling cornered per se; that’s probably overstating the case. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not feeling the pressure, because it certainly is. The past 12 months or so have been particularly challenging for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership.

There’s no question that China, and particularly the leadership of the CCP, has had a very difficult year. Perhaps the worst of it is that many of China’s problems didn’t have to become the major challenges that they’ve now become. Some were self-inflicted and completely avoidable. Others, however, were simply mishandled, or a combination of both.

African Swine Fever, Huawei, and ‘Made in China 2025’ Mayhem

Outbreaks happen, but in China’s case, the Party’s decision to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. pork and import pork from Russia, where a known African swine flu outbreak had occurred, was a monumental mistake in judgment. Then, in a rare admission of guilt, the Party admitted its failure to act quickly and contain the outbreak, which has become worse than anticipated, threatening food supplies worldwide.

These catastrophic policy failures cost China half of its swine population in 2019 alone. The responsibility for severe food shortages, hardships, and spiking food prices lies with the CCP leadership alone.

In the global trade realm, the CCP leadership’s continued chest-thumping over its “Made in China 2025” program was entirely unnecessary. Declaring that China would become the world’s center for technological development and manufacturing at the expense of its major trading partners was immature, self-indulgent, and just plain stupid. The predictable blowback was somehow surprising to the Party leadership.

More to the point, promising to hollow out the economies of its largest trading partners showed great disrespect toward the very countries that made China wealthy. That point was underscored by the revelations of Huawei spyware scandals in Poland, Canada, the Nordic countries, and in the United States. It shined a bright light on China’s official policy of IP and technology theft against the rest of the world on an industrial scale.

It also helped to validate President Donald Trump’s nascent trade war against China. To many, Beijing got—and continues to get—what it deserved.

Bungling Hong Kong Situation

Then came Beijing’s insistence on pushing an essentially lawless extradition bill onto Hong Kong. Again, another act of supreme arrogance and an inability or unwillingness to assess the risk-reward ratio of a situation. The protests could have been quickly ended within a week.

When the demonstrations first began in June, the presence of 3 million people in the streets of Hong Kong should have told Party leadership that the extradition bill would cost more than it was worth. Instead, Beijing refused to use good judgment. Had the bill been withdrawn immediately, the protesters would have had their win, probably celebrated in the streets for a weekend, and then gotten on with their lives.

Instead, Beijing’s ham-handed approach brought international condemnation upon itself, as well as lost revenues and damaged prestige for China’s premier financial hub. But the protests in Hong Kong continue today, and likely will go on for some time.

The Party has lost the upper hand and the leadership has been humiliated. What’s worse, it has foolishly enabled “foreign meddling” in Hong Kong—the one thing the CCP has warned its citizens of for decades. This has come about since Trump has been able to link Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong protesters to the trade war negotiations with the United States.

By failing to handle the Hong Kong situation early, Beijing has given Trump leverage that he never would have had. It’s a disaster for the CCP leadership that only seems to get worse the longer it goes on. What’s quite apparent to everyone in the Party, in China, Hong Kong, and the rest of the world is that the leadership has no good options. This self-inflicted wound continues to infect the CCP to its very core.

Double-Dealing With ‘The Donald’

Even the trade war itself could have largely been resolved before the Hong Kong crisis began. Recall that Trump announced a deal with China had been reached in May. The Chinese leadership, however, undercut and humiliated the U.S. president by withdrawing from agreed-upon terms.

Again, that was neither wise nor helpful to China’s cause. It wasn’t only a misreading by Party leadership of how and where China’s interests were best served, but it was also a tremendous error in judgment regarding the personality and actions of the U.S. president.

Failure to acknowledge the fundamental differences between Trump and his predecessors has resulted in an escalation of the trade war, rather than its resolution that was clearly in sight. The CCP leadership had a plum opportunity last May to successfully manage the relationship with the United States on a cooperative basis and blew it.

Trump’s response to China’s bad-faith dealing was swift. He immediately raised tariffs, restricted China’s access to key technologies, and signed an executive order banning Huawei and other Chinese network suppliers because of their threats to national security. What was an opportunity for a relatively painless resolution to the trade war was lost for no discernible gain for China.

If Trump had any doubts about the CCP’s appetite for duplicity and its leadership’s penchant for personal humiliation, he doesn’t anymore. What’s more, if CCP members didn’t have any doubts about their immediate future at the beginning of 2019, they most certainly do now.

China is most definitely worse off than it was last year at this time.

The big question is, “Will China become more aggressive in 2020?” That is, will next year see China flex its military muscle in reaction to growing and unmet challenges and failed leadership? Will it continue to shoot itself in the foot, regardless of the consequences?

Or will the Party reassess its decision-making process and seek to resolve its problems on a more rational basis?

It should be an interesting year.

James Gorrie is a writer and speaker based in Southern California. He is the author of “The China Crisis.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.