Chinese New Year 2022

What to expect in the Year of the Tiger?

On February 1, as firecrackers deafen and delight families across East Asia, the Chinese New Year festival marks the shift from the Year of the Metal Ox to the Year of the Water Tiger. You may not set great store by zodiac traditions, and Chinese New Year animals, but those who do say: ‘buckle up for a bumpy ride’.

In the Chinese horoscope, the Tiger symbolises bravery and confidence but also unpredictability. Like Tiger people, the year ahead may prove dynamic and emotional. Expect action, adventure and the unexpected. The Water element may calm the fiery king of beasts, just as Metal grounded the Ox to steady, hard work in 2021.

Like a bold and powerful tiger, China has stood up with confidence and assertiveness in recent years, forging its own development path and carving its place in global affairs. But its future has become harder to predict. As ever, Enodo Economics is here to help you understand China’s economy, politics and geopolitics and how they impact your world.

As the Chinese New Year prowls closer, we share here insights from veteran China analyst Dr Willy Lam on Xi Jinping’s priorities for 2022, when multiple factors look set to predispose Xi to be extra cautious in minimising socio-economic disruptions before the Communist Party’s 20th congress this autumn.

Two words, security and stability, sum up Xi’s foremost agenda this year. They refer to upholding the Party’s absolute authority, the viability of the economy, and his unchallenged position as leader for life of the Party, of which he has been general secretary and chairman of its Central Military Commission (CMC) since late 2012.

Xi will cement Party authority, his own tenure and control of the military, security apparatus

China’s most important event in 2022? No, not the Beijing Winter Olympics (4-20 February). It’s another tightly choreographed affair, the Party’s five-yearly conclave, scheduled for October or November. The congress will make pivotal decisions not only on policies but also on personnel. According to the convention, a top Party leader may serve only two five-year terms. But the 68-year-old Xi is urging the congress to give him one, preferably two, more terms as the core of the leadership.

Xi will double down on his control of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the zhengfa, or police-legal apparatus, amid signs many of the military top brass are not keen on Xi’s quest to become leader for life. In the past year, Xi has changed the commander in charge of Tibet and Xinjiang four times. The reason is to ensure their loyalty. He’s also detained four former vice-ministers of public security in the past few years. And he will continue the purge of the vast legal-political hierarchy.

Xi to keep purging factional foes

On the civilian side, Xi will try to sideline more of his political foes. Notably the remnants of the Shanghai and Communist Youth League factions. The supreme leader is scheming to exclude as many members of these two factions as possible from the new Central Committee and the Politburo to be established at the 20th Party Congress.

Quite a number of princelings (the offspring of current and former state leaders), including current Vice-President Wang Qishan and retired General Liu Yazhou, are unhappy with Xi’s apparent abandonment of the market-orientated reforms pioneered by Deng Xiaoping and Xi’s reinstatement of Chairman Mao’s ethos. Liu is reportedly under house arrest. The HNA Group, a multinational whose patron is Wang, went into bankruptcy restructuring in late 2021.

Part of Xi’s Machiavellian statecraft consists of linking the anti-corruption card – a formidable weapon – with efforts to rein in malpractices such as tax evasion and monopolistic behaviour in companies protected by his enemies. The campaign to control multinational giants such as the Alibaba/Ant Group – closely tied to the family of ex-president Jiang Zemin – is expected to continue this year.

While Xi has managed to a significant degree to elbow aside his political foes, he will be able to secure his “core for life” status at the congress only under certain conditions. For example, he must still reserve a limited number of Politburo seats for rival factions. This means he cannot fully control either personnel or policy issues beyond the congress.

And there’s plenty more on Xi’s plate!

The fight to maintain “zero-Covid”, the worsening tussle with the US, the cut in Western exports of high-tech components, the wholesale migration of foreign factories to lower-cost Asian neighbours, and the possibility of worsening inflation. All these factors will predispose Xi to be extra cautious over the next eight months, before the congress.

Tigers are not famous for their caution. But Xi will work hard to make 2022 a year of security and stability, not spontaneity and surprise. Born in the Year of the Snake, Xi may have to channel the tiger’s courage and confidence to stifle internal opposition, and meet the ever rising expectations of China’s people.

However and wherever you celebrate the Chinese New Year, all of us at Enodo Economics wish you a healthy and prosperous Year of the Tiger!

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