China Faces Uncertainty Amid COVID Lockdown
Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) analyst Grzegorz Stec has said that with the current international environment remaining volatile and uncertain, Beijing’s foreign policy seems unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
“This is all the more likely as international friction looks set to continue after the publication of the ‘Xinjiang Police Files’, for instance, or the looming Indo-Pacific-focused NATO summit. Unless major developments cause a shift in thinking, Beijing will continue to fortify China domestically and expand a coalition based on push-back to the Western-led international order,” the analyst said.
However, Nis Grunberg, another MERICS analyst said that there is lot of internal party tussle is going on. However while public discontent and heated behind-the-scenes policy debates continue, they will likely lead to little more than the scapegoating and dismissal of local or regional officials – decisions that Xi will construe as changes-for-the-better under the ‘people centric’ CCP of Xi Jinping Thought.
From the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the economic slowdown in the country, Chinese party bosses havebeen facing severe criticism due to its so-called “zero Covid policy”.
It is well known that Chinese president Xi Jinping exerts significant control on the governance and political frameworks. However, in the recent past, reports in the international media suggest a growing rift between Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, contributing to a policy dissonance.
Beijing’s extreme lockdowns have led to protests and clashes between authorities and residents forced to stay home for weeks without normal access to food and medical supplies.
The harsh lockdowns look set to depress economic growth to lows last recorded in the early 1990s.
Li has a short window in which to restore confidence in the economy, as he will retire this year after completing two full five-year terms as premier.
Businesses and logistics infrastructure are struggling to resume operations after being forced to shut for weeks and it is unlikely government stimulus will be able to boost economic growth to this year’s target of 5.5 per cent.
Despite hopes for stability in the run-up to this fall’s 20th Party Congress, Beijing sees itself as facing an increasingly hostile international environment.
According to the German-based think tank, the West’s decisive response to Russia’s war on Ukraine and growing American and European engagement with Indo-Pacific partners has fueled fears in Beijing of a US-led containment strategy.
US President Biden was on an Asia visit recently. There he announced the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity and met with other leaders of the QUAD format, and the EU summits with Japan and India are seen as attempts to isolate China.
Such fears are likely being heightened by disruptions to diplomatic exchanges as a result of China’s zero-Covid policy, increasing the risk of an echo-chamber effect among the Chinese top leadership.