Geopolitical maneuvering at multilateral meetings was in sharp focus this month, following the APEC and G20 summits. Outcomes were modest on all fronts, with the APEC summit failing to produce a joint statement and G20 efforts constrained by continued China–US tensions.
governance: tariff truce, refocusing cadre management, Pakistan consulate attack, welfare price reform
Meeting on the fringes of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires 1 December presidents Xi and Trump agreed a 90-day truce on tariff hikes and new trade talks.
Beijing is eager to maximise commercial and strategic benefits from US–North Korea negotiations without risking Chinese interests. Keenly aware of its place as a conflicted mediator, China balances nuclear security concerns against anxiety over US regional influence.
economy: demand-side economics, energy sector frictions, grain and oilseed reform, falling automotive sales
Demand-side economics is making a comeback as localities sprint to fulfill GDP year-end goals amid slow investment growth. National Development and Reform Commission approved three infrastructure projects within just 33 days, with a total investment of C¥132.41 bn, according to National Business Daily (NBD) estimates.
The China International Import Expo wrapped up successfully on 10 November. Official data recorded a total of 3,617 exhibitors from 151 countries and over 3,600 purchasers from 72 countries, signing US$57.8 bn worth of deals including US$4.72 bn with Belt and Road countries. Despite opening-up measures announced at the launch and the positive spillovers for the logistics industry, the expo failed to address lingering concerns over non-tariff barriers and intellectual property rights infringement.
Environmental conservation has clearly risen in the Xi administration’s estimate as key to the nation’s shift to high-quality growth and social stability. And ‘taking another look’ follow-up inspections have emerged as a testing ground of the Ministry’s governance.
The 31 October Politburo meeting omitted mention of de-leveraging and real estate control, highlighting instead the imperative to stimulate growth. The next day, Xi Jinping 习近平 reassured selected private entrepreneurs that their sector remains core to the socialist economy, and that more support is forthcoming. Attendees, however, were hand-picked from high-tech ‘national teams’ or industrial champions, scarcely representative of the private sector as a whole.
China–Japan relations were centre stage 25-7 October, with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s state visit to Beijing promising renewed economic cooperation (see also our Trade position). Abe and Xi pledged to set aside political differences and promote free trade, reaching deals across sectors from infrastructure to energy.
October was punctuated by high profile moments in foreign relations, notably with the US and Japan. At the beginning of the month, Pence made waves with blunt assessment of China’s strategic threat. Attacking it as paranoia, Chinese commentary absorbed it as laying a new baseline, while also subtly framing it as judgement on Beijing’s previous naivety.
China’s naval forces have long suffered from fragmented administration, limiting their capacity to combat crime at sea and defend China’s sovereignty. Power was consolidated into a China Coast Guard in 2013, but the move failed to address remaining ministerial overlap between the SOA, Ministry of Land and Resources and Ministry of Public Security. March 2018 reforms now empower the China Coast Guard (CCG) with law enforcement authority.
With market confidence sliding amid talk of new rounds of ‘state advances and private retreats’, top officials have stepped out in force to reassure investors. Liu He 刘鹤 vice premier was jointly interviewed by People’s Daily, Xinhua and CCTV on 19 October, pledging to stabilise and reform the stock market, solve private enterprise financing challenges and push forward state-owned enterprise (SOE) reform.