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2024 A Vexing Year Ahead for China

Economic headwinds. High-level purges. Social discontent. Extreme weather events. Worsening geopolitical environment. The year 2023 was in many ways a very difficult one for China.


Looking ahead to 2024, are matters likely to improve? In short: not by much.


Across the economy, society, politics, the environment, and foreign policy, the team at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis largely foresees a vexing year ahead for China as challenges continue to proliferate — though some positive opportunities, at home and abroad, present themselves as possible exceptions. In this inaugural annual report, our analysts forecast ten key developments to watch in the year ahead:



  • China’s economy will continue to struggle: Beijing is likely to again set an official growth rate of around 5% for 2024 but may find meeting this goal a real challenge. Lagging consumer demand, a persistent real estate crisis, and the unlikelihood of a comprehensive government stimulus amid significant concerns about debt and fiscal stability, especially at the local level, will continue to drag heavily on China’s economy in the year ahead.


  • Xi Jinping’s prioritization of security will weigh on growth: An important factor behind China’s economic woes will be President Xi’s overriding emphasis on “comprehensive security” as a paramount policy priority. This laser-like focus on security, stability, and national “self-reliance” makes it more likely that efforts to boost investor confidence may falter and an exodus of foreign capital will persist, potentially leading to stealth controls on international capital to maintain the yuan’s stability.


  • Eroding trust could further undermine confidence in governance and development: A growing “trust deficit” is today reshaping the dynamics among China’s political elites, between the state and society, between central and local governments, and within the general populace. Accentuated by — and contributing to — China’s economic slowdown, this erosion of trust is exacerbating political instability, policy unpredictability, social fragmentation, and other governance challenges and risks leading the country into a uniquely “Chinese-style” modernization trap.


  • A slowing economy will drive growing public discontent: The combination of slowing economic growth and erosion of trust could heighten public discontent and even drive new protests in 2024. Events of nationwide significance — such as the death in late 2023 of former premier Li Keqiang — have the potential to become flashpoints for broader public and elite dissatisfaction.


  • We will see purges in the provinces as local liabilities rise: Worsening fiscal challenges combined with growing central vs. local distrust are leading to intensified scrutiny of local finances and leaders. This is helping trigger a wave of political and anti-corruption purges in the provinces, especially in poorer regions — leading to new levels of political disruption and policy stagnation.


  • Xi will adopt a more oracular leadership style: Xi’s method of governing shows signs of increasingly shifting to one of “delegated centralization,” in which he assigns day-to-day decision-making to trusted aides, while he focuses on a grand strategy. This may further secure Xi’s image and power but will also increase policy fragmentation, amplify tensions between security and development priorities, and reduce the effectiveness of international diplomacy.


  • China will make domestic climate resilience a security priority: Amid a worsening global climate and following recent tragic experiences with climate-induced extreme weather events, China is primed to make climate adaptation and resilience efforts a major priority in 2024. These will be framed as national security issues, overlapping with other high-priority security issues favored by Xi Jinping, including food, water, energy, and infrastructure security.


  • China will act to reestablish its international climate leadership: To respond to growing demands by the international community and shift global climate-related attention away from China, while also advancing its own national interests, China is likely to offer a more concrete climate plan in 2024. This may include ramping up climate-related spending in developing countries and slowing or incrementally ending the construction of new coal plants domestically.


  • China will significantly strengthen its pivot to the Global South: Motivated by deteriorating relations with the advanced Western world and a need to secure greater access to raw materials; develop new markets; garner political support; and bolster its diplomatic, security, and economic influence on the world stage, China will increasingly turn its attention to building relations with the countries of the developing world. In 2024, this will mean additional development aid, high-profile diplomatic extravaganzas, and a larger operational presence by Chinese military and police forces in the Global South.


  • Two big elections will greatly complicate Chinese foreign policy: The January 13 election of Lai Ching-te of the more independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party as president of Taiwan presents a significant early political and policy challenge for Xi in 2024. The U.S. presidential election later in the year may prove similarly pivotal, determining the trajectory of U.S.-China relations for the next four years and beyond. Beijing is likely to continue its freeze on political ties with Taiwan and escalate its military pressure on the island, while using most of 2024 to make what preparations it can to mitigate against and, if possible, capitalize on a possibly chaotic shift in U.S. political leadership.


By Bates Gill, Executive Director, Center for China Analysis & Jing Qian, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Center for China Analysis for The Asia Society.




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