What does China’s future hold? A parting view from The Globe’s correspondent in Beijing
Since 2013, Nathan VanderKlippe has seen the ambitions and discontents of Xi Jinping’s China take shape. In this special series, he looks at several ways the country could continue to change, from robotics and water infrastructure to education and sports
On the first of July this year, China’s Communist Party will drape itself in the regalia of success. In 1921, according to the official accounts, the Party was formed in the tumult of the post-imperial era. A century later, it commands the world’s second-largest economy, a military that is rapidly growing in strength and a population increasingly certain the future belongs to them.
If China’s current course holds, economists say, it will eclipse the United States as the world’s pre-eminent economic power sometime in the next decade or two. Whether China’s leadership can indeed hold that course is among the defining questions of our time.
I moved to Beijing in 2013 to become The Globe and Mail’s correspondent in Asia. My arrival roughly coincided with Xi Jinping’s ascension to power, and my time in China has been spent documenting the changes he has wrought in a rule defined by intense personal and national ambition.
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Later this month, my family and I expect to leave China. Much has changed since we made the country our home. The suffocating smog that once led transit buses to get lost on their own routes has noticeably lightened. A cash system that once kept wallets full to bursting has virtually disappeared, replaced by the frenetic innovation of a mobile payment economy. Hundreds of human-rights lawyers have been arrested or locked up and millions of Uyghurs indoctrinated, incarcerated and sent to work in factories. Mosques have been torn down and crosses removed. China’s diplomacy has grown a sharp edge while its industrial policy has sought to slice into areas where western countries dominate. The shadow of rapid aging looms, but the spectre of extreme poverty has been dispatched. The bullet trains are faster – the futuristic “Rejuvenation” model now, in a telling shift, overtaking the “Harmony” model – and the drive for technological autonomy, if not supremacy, has grown even more vigorous.
One thing has not changed: Mr. Xi remains the force behind China’s bid to reshape the contours of the world we live in. For him, a leader who has swept away term limits, what’s still to come promises to be as momentous as the change that has already swept the country.
China’s Communist Party stands at the threshold of a new century.
But can it continue to march forward? Or will it falter?
That question leads naturally to many others. The reports in this section are my attempt to wrestle with some of the more weighty – and whimsical – among them. It’s my hope that, even when the answers I have found are not definitive, the insights they spark can illuminate the complexities of China today, and the potential stumbling blocks in its path.