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Crisis in Hong Kong: Can China Sustain?

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By attempting to put on a brave front, China cannot mask the problems that it is currently mired with. Over the past year, the country has faced protests from various regions that it claims as its own territories. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has also been experiencing a certain degree of indignation from the international community. In addition to that, nations like the United States and India have either had an economic fallout with the country or are steadily withdrawing their financial investments from China. Also considering that every move that China makes is being viewed with suspicion if not critically evaluated, sheds light on how the nation is struggling to keep its allies close.

However, in the midst of so many issues, one major concern for China should be its economy. And given the ways in which it is attempting to shelter its financial status from the world, just raises some questions about the wellbeing of the economic giant. China’s recent crackdowns on Hong Kong in the name of national security law, might have backfired. Even though the international financial hub, experienced a certain degree of autonomy, under the newly introduced law, its status will be no different from its mainland counterparts. This shift in the power balance might have some damaging implications on the Chinese economy.

Hong Kong’s previously enjoyed autonomy was what made it an able economic arm of China. Due to its low tax rates and favorable legal and financial systems, it was able to attract sufficient investments from various institutions. As per the Ministry of Commerce of China, over 58%  (USD 70 billion) of China’s nonfinancial Outbound Direct Investment (ODI) went to Hong Kong as of 2018. By the end of the same year, this volume plummeted and reached USD 622 billion. Over 60% of the Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is channeled via Hong Kong. Not to mention, the USD 1.1 trillion worth of Chinese bank assets that the territory holds. As of 2019, Chinese companies raised $64 billion globally, out of which $35 billion came from Hong Kong alone. Apart from that, the territory also plays an important role in bolstering the Chinese currency. Even though Hong Kong has its own currency, the Hong Kong dollar, it is also the biggest market for foreign exchange including the Chinese Yuan or the Renminbi. This serves as one of the primary reasons why investors are attracted to Hong Kong. From 2016 to 2019, alone, the rate of such foreign exchange transactions has increased by 3.9%, which is $77.1 billion in April2016, to $107.6 billion by April of 2019. However, in light of the pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong, these numbers have significantly decreased, as investors no longer feel safe to carry out their transactions there.

The national security law imposed on Hong Kong, mainly criminalizes four types of offences- sedition, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Even though these laws pertain to aspects of security, they do have some impacts on the Chinese economy as well. The new national security law is not just limited to Hong Kongers, but also extends to every cooperation that has investments or business in the region. The requirement would need them to be wary of not toeing the line. This has naturally dissuaded investors, especially foreign investors who do not wish to be caught up in the political and legal crossfires. Considering that Chinese political advisor, Leung Chun-ying, has publicly called for the boycott of HSBC, on social media platforms and China has been pressurizing accounting firms like PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, and Ernst & Young to investigate and fire employees who were associated with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. According to a survey carried out by the Hong Kong’s American Chamber of Commerce, over 60% of its members believed that the national security law would harm their business and 29% of them considered relocating. This clearly shows the fear among enterprises and investors operating in Hong Kong.

Taking into account that China’s new law diverges from its earlier policy of “one country, two systems”, there is a high probability that the tax rates in Hong Kong might mirror those of the mainland. In such a case, Hong Kong which was previously known as the tax haven, would experience a serious downfall in its number of investors.

The repercussions due to the national security law were soon felt after it was imposed. On May 22nd of this year, Hong Kong’s stock market plunged by 5%. This was considered to be one of the biggest falls since 2015. The property sector sub-index too fell by 7.7%, worse than the 2008 crisis. Companies like Sun Hung Kai Properties lost 7.1 percent and New World Development dropped 8.1 percent, while Wharf Real Estate Investment shed 8.7 percent. Hong Kong has also experienced a contraction of 8.9% , as a result of the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, protests and U.S tensions. In response to the stock market plunge in May, the Hong Kong market saw an inflow of money from the mainland, as many Chinese state owned firms bought up the Hong Kong stocks. But this does not change the fact that ever since last year, the city has been experiencing major dips in its finances. One of the best indicators of its economic distress, is the fall in the Hong Kong’s FDI. FDI for 2019, was $53.17 billion which is a decline by 45.2% since 2018. Additionally, Hong Kong’s GDP in the second half of 2019, also fell by 1.2%. As per UNCTAD’s officials, the city was met with disinvestments worth  $48 billion. 

But China is not unaware of Hong Kong’s troubling finances, and is desperately  yet subtly trying to grapple with the issue. To understand how China is dealing with a possible economic and legal recoil, one needs to take a look at its recent policies and actions. Soon after the declaration of the national security law, China launched the “Wealth Management Connect” on June 29, 2020, as a response to the flailing economy of Hong Kong. This was done with the intention of creating a better integration among all of China’s territories together and also to turn the Greater Bay Area including Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Southern Guangdong province into a financial hub by 2030. According to this initiative, residents in the area will be allowed to buy wealth management products that are available in each other’s markets. This will allow for better investments with the regions, under the PRC’s supervision. However, the success rate of this initiative is highly debatable as a global recession might be in order due to the pandemic.

The Wealth Management Concept was just one aspect of the deal, Beijing now seeks to tax its diaspora to make up for its tax revenues. The income tax regulations were amended in January 2019, however, expatriates are feeling the burden of its enforcement  since the past two months. The ones that are severely affected due to this change are the Chinese mainlanders who reside in Hong Kong. Many SOE’s are informing their employees to declare their 2019 income, so that they can start paying taxes that contribute to their homeland. The tax rate that was previously 15% has been significantly increased to 45%. While the Chinese diaspora cope with this higher tax rate and the living expenses of Hong Kong, many analysts speculate that the city might experience a brain drain. As of 2019, around 29,200 people have been reported to leave the territory. Even though Hong Kong does not publish high frequency immigration reports, there has been a 50% increase in the applications for good citizenship cards, which are averaged to be around 2,935 as of June, 2019. The increasing taxes clubbed with the fear of protests, might lead to a wave of emigration from the region, thereby reducing the lucrativeness of Hong Kong and negatively affecting China’s economy.

Despite the actions and regulations that China seems to have posed in the past year over its so- called territories, its actions in the international domain do not seem to fit in their own narratives. Trump and Xi Jinping have been engaged in a trade war for the most part of their presidencies. However, in light of the pandemic and the upcoming US presidential elections, this war seems to have been heated more than ever. As of February 2020, the US debt was estimated to be around $22 trillion. Out of which China owned $1.1 trillion, this amounted up to 21% of the US debt held overseas and 7.2% of the US’s total debt load. These figures, however, have changed in the past three months alone, as China has increased its holdings of US treasury securities by USD 10.9 billion. This sudden spike in buying US debt amidst a trade war, appears to be suspicious to say the least. Buying of treasury bonds is a common practice in the global market among nations, as it enables a country to anchor their currency at a certain amount. China’s sudden purchase of treasury bonds, could possibly mean that it is attempting to peg its currency to that of the US dollars. Another possible outcome could be that China might sell off these bonds at a higher rate in the future, so as to significantly damage the US economy. However, as per some Chinese sources, this shall be a “nuclear move”  on the part of the Chinese. As per another Chinese source, China Power, the nation bought these treasury bonds in order to manage the exchange rate of the ChineseYuan, and such a trade does not give the nation an edge over the US. Despite whatever narrative that China wishes to bring to the table, it cannot be denied that its sudden interest in purchasing its rival’s treasury bonds and taxing its own diaspora might be an indication of a bigger issue.

As of today, China is running out of economic allies. The US- China trade war had significant repercussions for the global market as is. But its recent conflict with India might affect China to a certain degree as well. In light of the recent border dispute between India and China, the notion of boycotting Chinese products in India has been increasingly popularized. India shares a trade deficit of $57 billion as of last year. If India, one of the largest consumers of the Chinese market were to boycott its products, this could have serious ramifications for the Chinese economy.

It is no secret that China has been met with criticisms on various fronts by the international community. But considering the recent events and the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, China could be attempting to cover up a major economic breakdown within its system. Earlier this year, a Chinese company was accused of depositing a “ghost collateral”. A private owned Chinese company, Wuhan Kingold Jewelry Inc., which owed many Chinese financial institutions and trust companies a loan of 20 billion Yuan ($2.8 billion) in the form of pure gold as a collateral, turned out to be fake. This company’s Chairman is Jia Zhihong, an ex- military man who defaulted on paying his investors. When 83 tonnes of Chinese gold turns out to be gilded copper, it does not paint a very good picture for the Chinese economy. Many could pass this incident off as the default of Kingold, but there is more than what meets the eye. China’s hasty enforcement of policies over its own territories and its apparently stable economy after suffering a major pandemic; whilst battling over issues of commerce with multiple nations, simply does not add up. In all probability, China could be heading towards an economic downfall and is still choosing to keep a tightlipped approach about it.

Research Analyst at Centre for Security Studies at O.P Jindal Global University, India.

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Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia and America’s hostile policy towards China-Russia rapprochement

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The visit of Chinese President “Xi Jinping” to Russia will be organized, which will most likely take place after the end of the sessions of the Chinese Parliament, which are traditionally held annually in early spring in February of each year.

  It seems to me that the Chinese comrade “Xi” himself deeply admires Putin on a personal level.  But it seems to me that the most worrying thing about Putin himself is that China, despite the strength of its relationship with him, is also seeking to set a high price for support. For example, Beijing wants to restrict Russia’s highly lucrative arms sales to India, a sworn enemy of China across the Himalayan range on the Sino-Indian border.  Despite this, the Chinese company, Huawei, is building Russian fifth-generation networks, while Russia requires Chinese cooperation on everything from aircraft parts to currency swaps in the local currencies of the two parties.

 Relations between Russia and China, which the two sides describe as a “borderless” partnership, have gained great importance after the launch of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. While Western countries imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia, China refrained from condemning Moscow’s military crackdown and merely emphasized the need for peace. Russian energy exports to China have increased dramatically since the outbreak of the war, and Moscow has become the single largest supplier of oil to China.  However, there are very serious limits to the pattern of “boundless” relations between China and Russia.  For now, China assures Western countries that at least it does not sell weapons or aircraft parts to Russia.  Beijing is desperate not to fall victim to the same sanctions imposed on the Russians after the Ukraine war.  So it sets limits to the relationship with Moscow.

 Beijing has so far been careful not to provide direct support that could make it vulnerable to Western sanctions over Russia’s war against Ukraine. At a summit held in September 2021 in Uzbekistan, Putin acknowledged the concerns of his Chinese counterpart “Xi Jinping”, about the situation in Ukraine.

 The visit of Chinese President “Xi Jinping” to Russia is an affirmation of Beijing’s solidarity with Russia during the continuation of its military campaign in Ukraine. This visit will show the world how close Russian-Chinese relations are.

  With China’s readiness, according to what Beijing officially confirmed, about its willingness to increase strategic cooperation with Russia against the background of the difficult situation in the whole world.  According to Chinese state media analysis.

  In a previous video call between Presidents “Xi Jinping” and Putin, it was confirmed that the road to peace talks on Ukraine will not be easy, and that China will continue to uphold its objective and fair stance on the issue, according to the official China Central Television broadcast in Beijing.

  It is expected that Russian gas supplies to China will increase after that visit.  This was confirmed by Russian President “Putin” that Russian-Chinese cooperation is increasing as a factor of stability in the international arena with Putin’s statements about the importance of continuing joint military cooperation with Beijing, to enhance regional security and work to develop it in the future.

 The visit of Chinese President “Xi Jinping” to Russia will be a joint declaration of the “borderless” partnership, which was announced between the two parties during the February 2022 summit, at the time of Beijing’s hosting of the Winter Olympics, as both sought to challenge the influence of the United States of America and pressure for a multipolar world.

  Here, Moscow and Beijing present themselves as a geopolitical counterweight to the United States of America and its other allies. Moscow and Beijing also conducted several joint military maneuvers and exercises in their nearby areas of influence, including naval maneuvers in the East China Sea, as a warning message to America and its allies about the Taiwan Strait.

  Likewise, during President Xi Jinping’s visit, China will try to increase the benefit from Russian supplies of gas to the Chinese economy, given that Beijing is the main consumer of hydrocarbons, at a time when the Europeans are trying to get rid of their dependence on Russian energy.

Here, China holds the cards when it comes to Russian gas.  Just before invading Ukraine, Putin signed an agreement with Xi to increase Russian natural gas exports to 48 billion cubic meters annually as a future deal, instead of capping a modest 4 billion cubic meters in 2020.  Russia is also planning to build a new pipeline, known as (Power of Siberia 2), which may lead to the transfer of Russian gas exports from Europe more easily to China.

 Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow will also reflect an affirmation of Beijing’s refusal to publicly condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine, with China instead accusing the United States of provoking Russia by pressing for NATO’s expansion to the east into the regions.  direct Chinese Russian influence.

   But on the other hand, with no indications that the conflict in Ukraine is about to end at the present time, President Xi has taken steps to distance himself from his Russian counterpart, including China’s signing of a statement during the G-20 summit, in November 2022 in Bali.  Indonesia, China, along with its other member states, reaffirmed their strong condemnation of the war in Ukraine.

 The summit that took place between President Xi Jinping and his counterpart, US President “Joe Biden”, on the sidelines of the G20 meetings, also helped ease tensions between the two largest powers in the world, as the two leaders jointly warned the Kremlin in Russia, because of a Russian statement,  About the imminent outbreak of a nuclear war against Ukraine.

 The first American comment on the event of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia came through a State Department spokesperson, in a statement, to express Washington’s concern about China’s alliance with Russia, in light of Moscow’s continued brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine, according to the official American  statements.

 Here came the United States and Europe’s warning to China of the consequences of providing any military assistance to Russia in its war against Ukraine or helping it evade internationally imposed sanctions.

 Here came the joint declaration between Moscow and Beijing to continue strengthening their strategic and comprehensive partnership relations, emphasizing the rejection of attempts to build a unipolar world dominated by Washington, because that American hegemony has acquired an ugly form in recent times.  The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s response also came with an emphasis on China’s support for Russia in strengthening its position as a major power in the international arena.

During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia, it will be emphasized that China is ready to continue to provide mutual support to Russia on issues related to their core interests, such as:

  (Sovereignty and security, intensification of strategic coordination between the two countries, and strengthening communication and coordination in the main international and regional organizations in whose membership they participate, such as: “The United Nations, BRICS Group, Shanghai Cooperation Organization”)

  Here, Russian President “Putin” opposes any attempts by any external forces to interfere in China’s internal affairs, such as the situation in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, with his Chinese counterpart, “Xi”, asserting that Beijing has always made independent judgments regarding Russia, foremost of which is its war against Ukraine.

 During the visit, Chinese President “Xi Jinping” is expected to call on all parties to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to find a peaceful solution, with the Chinese leadership willing to play a constructive role in this process. And while the Chinese government called earlier to adopt peace between Russia and Ukraine, it stressed at the same time its understanding of Russia’s security concerns, and its condemnation of the supply of weapons from the West to the capital, “Kyiv”.

  At the end of February 2022, Beijing abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Kremlin’s actions regarding Ukraine.  And this is despite Washington’s pressure on Beijing to adopt a position more in line with the Western position, but China refused to take any hostile stances or measures towards Russia, which it always describes as a “strategic partner”.

 Hence, we conclude the extent of the great Chinese political solidarity with Moscow. With the increase in the overall Chinese trade movement with the Russian side, and China essentially abandoning Ukraine’s support despite their previous relations in favor of Moscow, Beijing also expanded its financial transactions with the Russians without using the currency of the dollar or the euro, and doubled future cooperation for the development of military technology with Russia while conducting the Joint Russian-Chinese military exercises in the Pacific region.   In my personal belief, the American concern itself is not from a joint official Russian-Chinese alliance, but rather the fear of the compatibility of the policies of the two countries, which follow two different authoritarian regimes according to the classification of America and the West, and oppose the world order that the United States of America controls internationally in the recent time. The two parties together may impede the ability of the United States of America to implement some of its international goals, and thus influence the American influence internationally.             

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Chinese Communist Party and the path of “high-quality development” at Guangdong Province

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A night view of Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on March 10, 2018. (PHOTO / VCG)

During the meeting of “Huang Kunming”, Secretary of Guangdong Provincial Party Committee mentioned that it is significant for Guangdong embark on a path of high-quality development fit for its own situation. According to my highly understand of China’s high-quality development and analysis to the nature of the Chinese society and the polices of the Communist Party of China regarding the development is meaning (all-round building a strong modern socialist country) and all-round rejuvenation of the Chinese nation still need to rely on development.

 With the continuous development of the Chinese economy and the deepening of reforms, China put forward a new expression of “high-quality development” for the first time at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017, which indicates that China’s economy has moved from a stage of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development.

 Changing China’s economic development strategy is an inevitable choice in line with the law of development and the demands of its development. Now, China is seeking to change its previous development pattern of relying on a large number of factors of production to focus more on quality and efficiency.  It has begun to adhere to the implementation of the new development philosophy that emphasizes innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all, and to build a new development pattern that relies on domestic trade and promotes integration between domestic and foreign trade to enable the Chinese society to complete the building of a strong modern socialist country in an all-round way, Chinese side should stick to advancing high-quality development as the top priority, as President Comrade “Xi Jinping” stressed in the report.

 High-quality development mainly depends on the economy’s vitality, innovation and competitiveness.  In order to improve these capabilities, China is accelerating the implementation of the innovation-driven development strategy, intensifying its efforts to achieve a high level of self-reliance in scientific and technological research, mobilizing forces and focusing on solving intractable problems in original and pioneering science and technology research to achieve breakthroughs in some crucial and pivotal technologies, which are guided by these strategies, China has achieved good results in manned space industry, lunar and Mars sounding, deep-sea and land exploration, supercomputers, satellite navigation, quantum information, electro-nuclear technologies, large-scale passenger aircraft, medicine, biopharmaceuticals and other fields over the past years, and joined the ranks of innovative countries in the world.

 Green development is an important symbol of the transition of China’s economy from the stage of rapid growth to the stage of high-quality development. In recent years, China has pushed the green transition to a development mode, implemented the comprehensive rationalization strategy, developed green and low-carbon industries, and advocated green consumption.

  The bright future of China’s economy stems from more flexible and high-quality development. In 2021, China calmly responded to changes in the world as well as the COVID-19 epidemic, took new steps to build a new development pattern, achieve new results in high-quality development, and achieve a good start for the 14th Five-Year Plan. China has maintained a leading position in the world in economic development and in epidemic prevention and control, accelerated the growth of national strategic scientific and technological forces, improved the flexibility of the industrial chain, continued to deepen supply-side structural reforms, and made solid progress in the green transformation of the low-carbon economy and prosperity subscriber.

  Here, with the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the significant advantages of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, the technological foundation accumulated since reform and opening up, the extremely large market advantage and domestic demand potential, and with huge human capital and human resources, the Chinese economy will continue to grow steadily on the path of high-quality development, enabling China to contribute in achieving a steady and stable progress in the recovery of the global economy.

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China’s Deflating Population: The Economic Marvel in Eclipse?

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So China’s population shrank last year. I admit my first instinct was … well, isn’t this a good thing? I mean, during the entire 1960s and 1970s, global discourse misted around how the world population kept growing beyond the finite resources of this world. And how food scarcity and poverty would create a social depression. China, with a population of roughly 1.4 billion people, was specifically a focal point of population reduction strategies. After the widespread catastrophe of the Great Leap Forward, a debilitating social program orchestrated by Mao Zedong in the late 50s, China’s population was on the up and up in the following decade, to the point that the infamous ‘One-Child Policy’ was introduced in the late 70s to inhibit the burden of a growing population – and concomitant poverty. Since then, however, China has dynamically transformed into an economic powerhouse – a factory floor for global manufacturing. And here lies the answer to this population conundrum: Shrinking population in China is a problem now!

According to the data released by the Chinese government last week, China’s population contracted by circa 850,000 people in 2022; with 9.56 million births against 10.41 million deaths, it was the first time in more than half a century that deaths outnumbered births in China. The initial thought would be to blame it on the pandemic. But that would be a blinkered assumption without gauging the stunted birth rate. It was the sixth consecutive year that the number of births fell, down from 10.6 million in 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Many demographers and statisticians warned for years about a population decline on the cards, albeit much later in this decade. This presage was why the government reposed its one-child policy in 2016 and extended the limit to three children in 2021. Local governments offered tax rebates and outright cash handouts to couples having children. The source of anxiety was partly social and partly economic – or maybe socioeconomic is the correct juxtaposition.

China is a rising economic power, the world’s second-largest economy, and the strongest contender to dethrone American supremacy. But in listing all the superlatives, we sometimes forget that China is still a developing economy. Despite its phenomenal evolution from endemic poverty, its average population still earns less than the average earnings in advanced economies. And the shrinking population is a two-pronged issue that could constrict China, like other leading developing economies, into a middle-income trap.

Just by simple inference, we can judge that a declining population is also an aging population. Impressive modernity in China’s healthcare system has led to an increase in life expectancy. Meanwhile, a decades-long hiatus in birth-conducive policies and changed mores of young Chinese couples, often antipathetic to having children altogether, have led to a sharp decline in births. A combination of these factors has invited a conspicuous outcome: Shrinkage in China’s working-age population. In fact, China’s working-age population has been in decline since 2015; according to a government spokesman, it could fall to roughly 700 million (approximately 23%) by 2050. This factor would be particularly problematic for China, which has long been a competitive labor market for manufacturing heavyweights like Apple and Microsoft. But moreover, a bulging elderly population amidst falling tax receipts would pose a challenge to government finances, especially given the comparably underdeveloped social safety net programs in China. Therefore, either taxes ought to be raised sharply or state pensions to old-age dependents would hit the skids – a spartan policy dilemma either way.

We can draw apt comparisons from Japan – the world’s third largest economy – which has notoriously suffered from a lopsided aging population and accompanying anemic economic growth since the asset bubble burst of the 1990s. I mean, China’s real estate market does look like a financial crisis just waiting to happen. But post-boom Japan has tried virtually every bizarre economic strategy – from negative interest rates to yield curve control – yet has failed to spark demand-led inflation. Strangely, however, China has sustained its bustling economy on prohibitive rates of investment rather than consumer demand, which has remained relatively lukewarm due to policymakers’ reluctance to pass the complete scope of economic growth to households. Nonetheless, a contracting labor force would perhaps accelerate the exodus of manufacturing from China unless the government finds alternatives to sustain China’s unrivaled productivity levels.

We could blame China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy for strangling economic growth. It is no surprise that China’s economy grew by a modest 3% in 2022, its slowest rate in nearly four decades, barring 2020. Intermittent lockdowns and pedantic mass testing regimes cast a pall over economic activities. And higher interest rates imposed by the Federal Reserve and other central banks have dampened global demand and diluted appetite for Chinese imports. According to government officials, year-on-year Chinese exports fell by 9.9% in December. While an economic turnaround is widely expected later this year, a falling working-age population; a skyward old-age dependency ratio; and the ongoing trade tussle with the United States could cost China many more decades to supersede the American edge. However, China has been an iridescent success story, an economic miracle of sorts. And therefore, if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could somehow prioritize economy over national security; social reforms over governmental control; and collaboration over confrontation, I reckon China can again defy the odds and achieve its dream.

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