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China’s leaders prize information control over information sharing, even at the risk of delaying actions to curb the spread of a disease. In that sense, the Corona epidemic has laid bare the weakness of centralized, top-down systems of authority, says Nis Grünberg.

By Mary Hennock

As the MERICS China Forecast 2020 event opened in Berlin it was already clear the outbreak of deadly coronavirus flu in Wuhan would ratchet up all the key political and economic stress patterns we were asking our panellists to consider. For China, 2020 will be shaped by the still-unknowable consequences of the outbreak.

China is pushing for its currency to be used all over the world and its renminbi trading infrastructure is particularly good in the European Union. Maximilian Kärnfelt says this looks set to bring the Europeans real commercial benefits – and create real geopolitical problems. 

 

The US and Europe differ on using Chinese companies for next-generation mobile-phone networks. John Lee says that reflects different assessments of whether the benefits can outweigh the risks.

"Westlessness" is the slogan of this weekend's Munich Security Conference (MSC) and a tribute in no small part to China: Beijing's rise and its growing influence on economic, political and security issues is having a clear impact on the Western-led liberal world order, argues MERICS expert Helena Legarda. (via EUobserver)

That China has a stake in the Middle East became evident just recently, when the killing of an Iranian general by a US drone strike drew a very critical response from Beijing. However, wary of further antagonizing the United States and prolonging their trade dispute, China refrained from taking concrete action to support Tehran. Faced with the choice between supporting its ally Iran or staying out of the fray, Beijing chose the status quo, says MERICS analyst Helena Legarda.

While Beijing is investing in Central Asia, the European Union views the region as little more than a way station on the road to China. Oyuna Baldakova says the EU has to think again.

2020 promises to be a critical year in Europe-China relations. Results of a MERICS expert survey, however, indicate that prospects for success look dim, unless European governments can translate last year’s shift in rhetoric into real changes in policy and approach. 

Hong Kong is still crucially important for China to access global financial markets. But Beijing’s reaction to the protest movement is increasingly putting this system at risk. Other financial centers, like Singapore or London, have been named as possible alternatives. But China cannot yet do without Hong Kong, argues Max J. Zenglein.

Thomas Geddes

President Xi has recently been promoting Macau as the posterboy for China's “One Country, Two Systems” principle. He may be hoping that Hong Kong's citizens will heed his call, but this seems unlikely for the differences between the two Special Administrative Regions (SARs) are huge.

For much of the past year, China has been preoccupied with its trade conflict with the United States. Now that it has a clinched a “phase-one” deal with Washington, it is turning its attention to Europe. The problem? Europe hasn't made up its mind about how to respond, says Noah Barkin. 

Barbara Kelemen

Growing Chinese commitment to Afghanistan’s pine-nut industry is a small but illuminating example of Beijing’s interest in the region bordering Xinjiang, says Barbara Kelemen.

Charlotte Cramer

The government continues to lock up activists to stop feminism becoming a mass movement. Charlotte Cramer says Beijing will only succeed if it at last takes women’s rights seriously.

A wave of ideological indoctrination and discipline is undoing a generation of flexible policy making, says Nis Grünberg. Love for the party and the socialist idea are no replacement.

Over the past decade, China has established itself as Kyrgyzstan’s most important economic partner. The China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) is one of the most successful state-owned Chinese companies invested in projects in this landlocked and mountainous central Asian country. In his conversations with workers on the ground, Jacob Mardell found out that BRI is not only a tale of national, but also of personal ambition. He is currently travelling countries along the Belt and Road to investigate how the initiative is being implemented on the ground.

Anti-Chinese protests in Russia and Kazakhstan show that Beijing’s Belt and Road projects can be undone by the popular resistance and local politics of their host countries. Government support is not enough, says Oyuna Baldakova.

For months now Hong Kong has gone through a rollercoaster of escalating protest, police action and government intransigence. The impression is left of a government that is out of touch with the population, unable or unwilling to represent Hong Kong’s interests against China and, most of all, without a game plan.

Resistance to Chinese technology is growing in Germany—and the ripple effects could reach across the continent.

Beijing can’t allow the yuan to keep falling, says Maximilian Kärnfelt. A weaker currency is good for exporters, but bad for other parts of the economy.

Lacklustre collective action means Southeast Asia countries are failing to constrain the USA and China shaping the future of their region. Hanns W. Maull says European nations should take note.

Beijing talks up equality for foreign and domestic businesses but action is slow, say Mikko Huotari and Agatha Kratz.

Washington is escalating its campaign to contain China by blacklisting technology firms. It’s not clear if Europe is prepared to follow suit. Either way, there will be a price to pay.

Lavender Au, Mats Kuuskemaa

China’s personal social credit scoring has sparked controversy, but many in China appear willing to accept it. Lavender Au and Mats Kuuskemaa ask how far this acceptance goes. This article is part 4 of a mini-series to present the outcomes of the MERICS European China Talent Program 2019.

Manlai Nyamdorj

Do artists like Higher Brothers have the potential to boost the image of China abroad and finally bring Chinese societal resources to generate soft power?

 

Linking China and Europe via the Caspian Sea, the “Middle Corridor” is one of the BRI’s six “official” corridor. But in the South Caucasus region, China is almost nowhere to be seen, says Jacob Mardell. He is currently travelling countries along the Belt and Road to investigate how the initiative is being implemented on the ground.