There’s a lot more action ‘behind the scenes’ to consider too!
Their GDP may have faltered during the first quarter but the political activity driving the way forward has remained as resilient as ever.
Both within, and without, the Chinese economy has long needed a serious overhaul and it is clear that a mere virus has done little to stop the momentum already put in place by previous serious strategic planning to do just that.
Perhaps the first outward signs of this emerged back 2013 with the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In simple terms this is a strategy devised and initiated to create road, rail and sea links across up to 70 countries.
Some have politely recognised this as a little more than a re-creation of the old Silk Road, the ancient Chinese silk trading routes first developed during the Han dynasty 200 hundred years BC. Others have observed somewhat less subtly and perhaps with just cause, that the BRI is little more than heavily disguised debt-trap diplomacy, or neo-colonialism, being put in to action. Putting politics to one side for a moment, the BRI can also clearly be described as standardisation device.
Shortly thereafter, in May 2015, the PRC Premier Li Keqiang announced their next strategic plan, ’Made in China 2025’. In essence this strategy was planned to upgrade China from the status of a low-end manufacturer to becoming a high-end producer of goods and by doing so capture the emerging Chinese high wealth consumer and push into the external global sector.
A major change was required to switch the then current industrial structure to produce more specialised focused goods. With the required heavy investment in R&D, and an emphasis now placed on technological innovation, in order to achieve the party goals there was inevitably an inclination internally to support and offer heavy subsidies to state-owned businesses and preferred operators, creating less fair opportunities for the private sector and foreign investors.
Such discrimination, with additional accusations of cyber espionage and intellectual property theft, was perceived as a breach of international trade rules that set the US and China on the road to a trade war, with several other nations tightening up their foreign investment and trade practices too.
Perhaps the most tangible example of the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan in action is Huawei’s aggressive emergence as one of the most prominent world suppliers of 5G networking equipment. Again some observers see this as a key example of Beijing starting to define technical and technology standards.
Now in 2020, we have ‘China Standards 2035’ strategy near the final draft after two years of preparation, which if indicators are to be believed is the next step of the PRC’s global manufacturing plan, designed to define key aspects of the technological world covering telecommunications, artificial intelligence and even blockchain.
On the world stage we have seen the major players decline in standing - the EU, UN, NATO, WHO and WTO have all been weakened of late. Meanwhile, we have seen China take advantage of this and veto Security Council measures, receive concessions as part of the Paris Climate Accord, the WTO still treats the world’s second-largest economy as a “developing” nation and the director of the WHO supported Beijing as the Coronavirus spread around the world reducing national economies.
Through all of this we have seen a more bullying ambitious foreign policy supported by a strong repressive political system. In avoiding outright perceptible conflicts China has cleverly moved forward on the world stage by cynically using the pandemic for geopolitical advantage and playing favourites with its distribution of pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment and launched a global disinformation campaign falsely assigning responsibility for the pandemic to the United States.
Recently it was noted that the PRC National Standardization Committee released “Main Points of National Standardisation Work in 2020.” Within lies instructions to “seize the opportunity that COVID-19 creates by proliferating China’s authoritarian information regime; to co-opt global industry by capturing the industrial Internet of Things; to define the next generation of information technology and biotechnology infrastructures; to export the social credit system”.
From the above it is not difficult to deduce that President Xi Jinping, and China, has more in his sights than a simple uptick in the 2020 national GDP box - as the old Chinese proverb says “ Without ploughing and weeding there is not a harvest ”.