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“A war with Taiwan? I don’t think China feels much for that’

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“Xi Jinping does not want to further deteriorate relations with Europe and the United States,” said economist and China specialist George Magnus.

The population is taking to the streets, the corona numbers are rising and the economy is weakening: things are booming in China. Yet Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not lost control, says George Magnus, economist, China expert and author of Save flags. Why Xi’s China is in danger. “The protests don’t really endanger Xi. The government has already shown that it can take even more drastic action against protests when in doubt. But the protesters have already achieved something.

George Magnus: Testing and quarantine policies are relaxed in many places. I think the zero covid policy will slowly but surely fade away, depending on how the pandemic develops in the coming months.

So easy? Easing was non-negotiable for the Communist Party, was it?

Magnus: There were good reasons for a zero covid strategy in the early stages of the pandemic. But the party is gradually realizing that the costs are getting too high. In addition to the serious economic damage, the psychological and physical consequences for the population are enormous. China will have to relax the corona rules.

Do you think the protest will die down?

Magnus: On the contrary, the protests seem to be a lightning rod for the frustration that has accumulated over the years, not only because of the repressive corona policies, but also because of the poor economic conditions and the bleak prospects for the future, in particular for young people. . The poor state of the Chinese economy is breaking a crucial Communist Party promise, which is the principle of “shared prosperity,” which gives the party more power and the people more wealth. This puts pressure on Xi Jinping.

Some fear that Xi Jinping could start a war with Taiwan to divert attention from the economic consequences of the strict corona policy.

Magnus: Never say never, but I don’t think Xi is very supportive of it.

Why not? China has been threatening reunification with violence for years.

Magnus: Just because the party says something doesn’t mean it does it. There are indeed hardliners calling for annexation, but Xi knows the price would be huge. I think he closely followed Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“China will have to relax the corona rules.”

What did he learn from this?

Magnus: First, that people’s will to resist should not be underestimated. And second, that the rest of the world can come to the rescue if needed. I don’t think he wants to further deteriorate relations with Europe and the United States.

George Magnus in 2016. © Reuters

America is trying to stop China’s rise by introducing massive export restrictions, like on the semiconductor industry. Will Beijing be hit hard?

Magnus: Extremely difficult. It seems that many people do not yet realize that China is a strong geostrategic actor, but that it is on the defensive. This is not only due to the bad economy, but also to pressure from America and its allies.

US wants Europe to join chip embargo. Is it a good idea?

Magnus: It’s a tricky question. The Americans think they are doing the right thing strategically. I have good reason to believe that the Chinese mean business when they say they consider themselves an economic and military superpower.

What does this mean for Europe?

Magnus: This does not mean that we should stop all trade with China, but rather choose in which areas we want to become dependent on China. And what know-how we want to share.

European business leaders are worried.

Magnus: It also becomes more and more complicated for them. In the future, it will be possible to do good business with China in many areas, but when it comes to technology and other national security issues, Europe quickly runs the risk of being criticized. by America.

Will China continue to drive global growth in the future?

Magnus: It all hinges on Xi’s ability to get the economy back on track and win back popular support. We don’t know what the world will look like if Xi fails. What if he is replaced by an even bigger extremist who really wants to risk a war in Taiwan? Only one thing is certain: its fate depends on the economy.

Copyright Der Spiegel

Demonstration in Beijing, November 27, 2022. ©Getty

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