China experienced a historic year in 2022, but it was overshadowed by the struggle to survive the COVID-19 pandemic that began in December. The series of events demonstrated to the world that while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may be exceptionally skilled at managing its populace, it is less so at governing people.
The majority of 2022 was spent under harsh lockdowns and onerous regulations intended to stop the coronavirus’s spread. However, after three years of harsh treatment, there was a growing sense of discontent among the populace with the government, and this culminated in street protests after a building fire in Urumqi claimed the lives of several prisoners.
The government gave up on its zero-COVID policy almost immediately. It was astonishing how quickly the government dropped controls and how COVID-19 exploded in China’s virus-virgin populace after devoting so much time, money, and promotion to this campaign. Since the government ceased publishing data, no one truly knows how widespread the infection is. But one thing is certain: there
will undoubtedly be tens of thousands of deaths as a result of the dreadful scenario.
Several Chinese people interviewed by ANI reported relatives who have caught COVID, been hospitalized, or died from it. Yet “COVID” is not being marked as the reason on death certificates, but rather alternative terms such as “sudden death”. No other country was able to successfully wield a COVID-elimination policy. That the CCP did so for three long years was a stupendous achievement of authoritarian control. However, it was not a viable long-term strategy, since individuals and thethe economy suffered terribly.
Chairman Xi Jinping in his New Year’s Eve speech offered cold comfort to thousands
suffering without hospital care or adequate medicine. Indeed, he tried to make the government’s tragic abdication of responsibility appear as though it was all carefully planned. “Since COVID-19 struck, we have put the people first and put life first all along. Following a science-based and targeted approach, we have adapted our COVID response in light of the evolving situation to protect the life and health of the people tothe greatest extent possible.”
China has resigned itself to letting infections peak as quickly as possible – no matter how many die – so that the country can push on and return to some form of normality. Certainly, the economy’s health looms large in the CCP’s calculus. The economy will be impacted by the virus in
the short term, compoundingchallenges such as flagging exports and a prolonged property sector crisis.
GDP is growing below targets, at just 3% for the first three quarters of 2022, and government efforts have not propped up sagging business or consumer confidence. Indeed, totalretail sales dropped 0.1 per cent year on year from January-November 2022. Beijing has engaged in an “all-out” infrastructure campaign to revive the economy.
Economists vary in their forecasts, but an average of about 5 per cent GDP growth for 2023 is quoted as a ballpark figure. However, China will have to contend with a looming global recession. Xi in his speech
tried to sound optimistic. “The Chinese economy enjoys strong resilience, tremendous potential, and great vitality. The fundamentals sustaining its long-term growth have remained strong. As long as we stay confident and strive for progress while maintaining stability, we will realize the goals we have set.”
Indeed, the bullying from other countries, and China’s brutal treatment of Uyghurs and Tibetans, and the continued suppression of Hong Kong on the home front, continue to raise the hackles of many in the international community. Hong Kong’s National Security Law passed on 30 June 2020, has successfully stifled and bludgeoned all forms of protest or political self-expression in the former British colony. Some 20,900 residents
departed Hong Kong from mid-2019 to mid-2020, another 89,200 in the following twelve months, and 113,000 from mid-2021 to mid-2022. Many people left the territory, after contemplating a bleak future there under the CCP’s unforgiving rule.
Xi can say, “We stand firm on the right side of history and on the side of human civilization and progress.” Yet so many fled Hong Kong because they saw the CCP as both regressive and repressive. China continues to invest heavily in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and itsnuclear weapon arsenal is receiving an incredible boost in size. The USA’s 2022 China Military Power Report estimated that the PLA Rocket Force has some 400 nuclear warheads, but the Pentagon predicted that
it will have 1,500 by 2035. Along the way, the PLA will triple its nuclear warhead stockpile in the space of just a decade.
The threat against Taiwan has heightened, with the PLA becoming even more belligerent after Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, had an overnight visit to Taipei in early August. Alarmingly, the PLA enforced exclusion zones hurled missiles and conducted sea and air exercises all around Taiwan. China used this pretext to make such exercises a norm and to establish a new baseline for militarily coercive activities. It is now a matter of routine for the PLA to send bombers and fighters on forays into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, as Beijing tightens the psychological screws on Taipei.
China returned to confrontations along the Indian border too, with the most publicized incident occurring near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh on 9 December. Expect China to continue such frontier probes to test Indian resolve in the coming year. There was also news late in 2022 that China is reclaiming land on four more reefs (Eldad Reef, Lankiam Cay, Whitsun Reef and Sandy Cay) in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Snowballing criticism of the government’s COVID policy has proven impossible to contain, not even by China’s skilled cyber police. The beginning of Xi’s third term was quite rocky. Unfortunately, as Xi continues to align himself with Russia and
deflects attention from his own problems at home, 2023 may be unpredictable and unstable for the entire world.