Jan 4, 2022 - World

China stories we're watching in 2022

Illustration of the year "2022" written in sparklers

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

From politics to public health to real estate and tech, here are the China stories to watch in 2022.

The big picture: This will likely prove a key year, as Chinese President Xi Jinping moves to implement groundbreaking new policies and cement China's position as a global superpower.

Here's what we're watching...

1. Tensions between East and West are growing.

  • 2021 saw deepening animosity between the U.S. and China — and a chill in relations between China and European nations.
  • What to watch: Will Beijing and Washington be able to find a sustainable, peaceful way to work through their disagreements and manage fundamental conflicts, such as U.S. opposition to China's human rights abuses? Or will the world become locked into another great power struggle?

2. The Chinese government is continuing its dramatic intervention in the country's Big Tech companies.

  • Some new regulations exert tighter control over company data in the name of national security, including discouraging companies from listing on foreign stock exchanges and restricting some data practices to protect consumer privacy.
  • Other measures are aimed at larger economic restructuring to improve the lives of employees and more equally distribute some of the massive wealth accumulated by China's top companies.
  • Why it matters: China's markets are so large and many of its companies so influential that its expanding regulatory regimes have the potential to influence global standards, as foreign companies adapt their practices for the Chinese market.

3. China's property sector troubles are deepening.

  • Chinese real estate giant Evergrande, which owes $300 billion, has defaulted on debt payments, and its second-largest shareholder delisted from the Hong Kong stock exchange, as other homebuilders are in trouble in an overheated market in the country.
  • Why it matters, via Axios' Kate Marino: "Widespread distress in the Chinese property market could bleed into other areas of its massive economy, as well as negatively impact the global markets for commodities and raw materials."

4. The Chinese government's no-COVID policy has saved many lives but is putting a strain on businesses, local governments and communities.

  • More than 80% of China's population is fully vaccinated with Chinese-made vaccines, which prevent severe illness but aren't as effective against preventing infections, particularly against new variants.
  • What to watch: Chinese authorities have delayed for months approving BioNTech's highly effective mRNA vaccine for domestic use. The politics of relying on a Western-made vaccine may be behind the delay, experts say.

5. Xi will very likely be appointed to a third term, breaking with tradition.

  • In 2018, China's rubber-stamp parliament abolished the two-term limit adopted in 1982 to prevent a single person from acquiring too much power. An important party meeting in late 2021 paved the way for Xi to assume a third term.
  • Why it matters: The Chinese government's authoritarian policies at home and assertive actions abroad are likely to continue for years to come.

6. The controversial 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are just a month away.

  • Several governments have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games, and human rights advocates urge further action to oppose what some are calling the "Genocide Olympics," referring to the ongoing mass internment, forced sterilization and other repressive measures the Chinese government is using against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
  • Why it matters: Despite clear evidence of genocide, the Chinese government remains set to host the prestigious global event, suggesting Beijing has become powerful enough to confidently rebuff even joint action by democratic countries.
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