China: more risk of resignation than revolution

David Baverez
3 min readDec 22, 2022
Bruno Klein

This column was previously published in L’Opinion on december 9th 2022

The U-turn with regard to the zero Covid policy is no answer to the real question over the plan that Xi Jinping intends to propose to his people for the next decade.

It has only taken a few weeks to see why the Communist Party granted full powers to President XI during the 22th Party Congress. With four crises that China has to face — in the fields of public health, real estate, geopolitics and capitalism — the only way for the Party to survive will be by increased and hyper-centralized control.

In the space of a day, the Chinese surveillance system proved itself effective enough to stop demonstrations — essentially emanating from young people — from spreading to the two other main sources of discontent in the country: the private sector and local authorities. If it had not, the scale of the protests could have changed. It has to be said that there were only a few thousand demonstrators in a country with a population of 1.4 billion, which hardly constitutes any sort of revolution. It also has to be admitted that the Chinese government has a considerable response capacity. In fact, Beijing is putting out more and more signals that it wants to bury the hatchet with large private companies. For instance, it has suggested that Tencent and Alibaba should operate in the semi-conductor sector, because of American sanctions. The signals also show that the government wants to combat the real estate crisis — mainly affecting the provinces — by helping the developers at risk with a new injection of billions of dollars.

The real issue, beyond the stifling of demonstrations in the short term, is to know what sort of Marxist-Leninist society President Xi intends to propose to his people over the next decade –people who are far less docile with regard to government inefficiency than the West generally perceived them to be.

The coming weeks should therefore see the end of the “zero Covid dynamic”. The new strategy will be based on once again speeding up vaccination, and reliance on local flexibility for re-starting the country’s economy — if necessary taking a few liberties with the future Covid statistics. This policy could bring the promised 5% increase in GNP in 2023, in complete contrast to the recession forecast for the USA and Europe. This would also mean that, next year, the government could once again trumpet the superiority of Chinese pragmatism.

“Let it rot”. The real issue, beyond the stifling of demonstrations in the short term, is to know what sort of Marxist-Leninist society President Xi intends to propose to his people over the next decade –people who are far less docile with regard to government inefficiency than the West generally perceived them to be. In particular, what sort of future does he have in mind for young people who, having experienced the relative opening up of the country between 2000 and 2015, now seem to want to distance themselves from the ambient nationalism and take refuge in resignation. After the “Lying flat” movement which encouraged young people to lie down and not take part in the country’s growth, the new “Let it rot” movement advocates putting any problem on the shoulders of one’s neighbors.

This should be the signal for Europe to stop showing an agitation that produces no results, as was the case of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel in Beijing last week. His visit was totally useless and merely served to remind the Chinese of the inanity of European governance. Rather, we should turn our attention to young people in China, to the private sector and to local officials, and remind them of the lessons to be learned from 20th century European history: East Germany had claimed to be the technological center of the world but the fall of the Berlin Wall showed that this Marxist-Leninist Silicon Valley was actually a disaster zone. It could be that China is suffering under the same illusion.

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David Baverez

Business angel / demon. Based in Hong Kong since 2011. Columnist, author of “Paris-PekinExpress”, “Beijing Express” and “Génération Tonique”.