China, a huge story in 2021, with the Olympics to come


China has been one of the biggest stories of 2021 – from its plans to host the 2022 Winter Olympics to criticism over its human rights record in Tibet’s Xinjiang region and Hong Kong to questions about how it would exercise its economic power in a delicately balanced world. Not to mention the still-alive question of how he deals with the United States – this year under a new president, Joe Biden.

In 2021, the ruling Communist Party in the country officially revised history for the third time in its existence, raising leader Xi Jinping to the same level as Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic, and the architect of the “Reform and opening up” Deng Xiaoping. This could allow him to stay in power even longer – does it revere him as politically flawless?

Here, the Associated Press reporter who oversaw AP’s coverage in China in 2021 takes a look at what he’s seen over the past year and what may lie ahead.


KEN MORITSUGU, AP’s CIO for Greater China:

This year has certainly been a difficult year for China in many ways. Internationally, they had the arrival of the new president in America who succeeded Trump, who had caused a lot of headaches in China. And there was some hope Biden could bring a friendlier approach to China. It didn’t really materialize. Biden has stuck with many of the difficult positions Trump has taken on China. And obviously the relationship wavered a bit, but it didn’t improve. It’s probably worsened in some ways. And I think if they weren’t convinced before, everyone is convinced now that at least in the short to medium term for US-China relations, the outlook is pessimistic. Both parties, as they shoot each other, are essentially trying to keep the relationship from getting worse and that has become the goal – the goal is not to improve the relationship, but to prevent it from getting worse. get worse.

Recently, Xi and Biden had a relatively friendly conversation, it seems. They avoided some of the sharper rhetoric. And it was seen as a sort of victory. But I think the fundamentals haven’t changed. And now we can see with the recent controversies over Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who disappeared and practically stopped speaking after making a sexual assault allegation against a former senior official in China, and the reaction to United States in the West in general to this. And then also now with the approach of the Olympics, the pressure continues on China on human rights in Tibet, in its region of Xinjiang. These things keep coming back and they take the breath away of any effort to improve relationships.

At the same time, at the national level. China has a lot of problems for the future. Xi Jinping’s Communist Party is trying to increase its control over the economy and is rightfully concerned about some of the excesses in the real estate market, some of the speculation that has occurred, and it has tried to curb excessive lending in this market. At the same time, it also tried to bring part of the tech industry more under its control. Together they have had a negative impact on the economy. I think consumers are worried. People don’t spend as freely even though they have money to spend. And so there is this balance that the party faces as it tries to gain more control of the economy, but also risks undermining economic growth, which is crucial for any country, but especially for China.


The idea is to make sure the party stays in power. Part of that was to make Xi a strong and powerful leader, someone who will stay in office longer than his two predecessors, who stayed for a decade or so. Xi is likely to be elected to a third five-year term as party leader, which would then lead to him becoming China’s president again for another five years. There are certainly people who think he might consider staying in power his entire life. But this year was the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party, and the party and Xi had used this to build both the party and Xi’s image as the irreplaceable leader of the party at that time.


For any country, a second Olympics is never as big as the first Olympics. I mean, I think the first Olympics were, whether it was in China, South Korea, or Japan after WWII, it kind of signals an arrival on the world stage that you developed at the level. of a country capable of successfully hosting an Olympic Games. And it gives you the opportunity to show what you’ve done to the rest of the world. I think Beijing certainly used the 2008 Olympics to do this. The other factor since 2008, and which started soon after, is when China took this turn to reverse some of the opening that had taken place over the previous two decades. Basically, the party decided that the people should keep control of the society and the country and the people and the economy in a more stringent way, in order to maintain their grip on power.


For a full look at the events that shaped 2021, “A Year That Changed Us: 12 Months in 150 Photos”, a collection of AP photos and journalist memorabilia, is available now:


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