China forecasts 2023: Don’t expect too much from China’s re-engagement
Strong domestic pressures on Xi and the CCP mean tensions with the West won’t disappear.
2023 is a year of great expectations for China. Having abandoned its zero-Covid policy and international isolation, there’s hope that an economic rebound could stave off a global recession and optimism that better relations with the United States and Europe might bring greater stability to the international system.
2023 forecasts from five organizations — Eurasia Group, The Economist, Control Risks, The China Project, and our annual MERICS China Forecast — indicate, however, that these hopes are likely to be dashed. Nearly all predict an uncertain China that will put Xi’s governance approach to the test. Two determinants will be key to watch.
Xi put to the test
First, Covid-19 and the impact the spread of the virus will have on China. While Eurasia Group sees many unnecessary deaths because of low elderly vaccination rates and the lifting of all restrictions, the China Project believes that thanks to masking, self-isolation and a stepped-up vaccination campaign, the death toll will not be as gloomy as many predict. Eurasia Group also highlights the possibility of a more deadly Covid-19 variant emerging in China, which will spread undetected given an overwhelmed health system, reduced testing and sequencing, and the highly controlled information environment.
The uncertainty surrounding China’s Covid situation is expected to last at least into the summer. High death rates and resulting family grief and anger could aggravate social dissatisfaction.
Second, the strength of China’s economic recovery. There are great expectations that China’s economy, fueled by consumer revenge spending, will rebound, boosting global growth. But there is also great uncertainty about the size of this rebound. MERICS Senior Fellow Alicia García-Herrero has highlighted that “there’s an overestimation on the splash of Chinese consumers.” In line with this, The Economist has stressed that “China faces slowing economic growth,” Eurasia Group sees “China’s economy in a fragile state, (with) uncertainty in China’s economic rebound,” while the China Project predicts an economic recovery in the second half of the…