Working as a long-range weather forecaster in the US army, economist and Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow once asked his superiors to be relieved of duty. His forecasts were no better than guesswork, he argued.
His request was refused outright: “The commanding general is well aware that the forecasts are no good. However, he needs them for planning purposes.”
Forecasting political developments, too, is frustrating work. Anyone trying to gain a level of certainty about an inherently uncertain future faces many obstacles. This holds especially true for China, where information is highly controlled and decisions are taken behind closed doors.
But that does not make forecasting futile. On the contrary, it makes it more necessary. Insights gained from forecasting make uncertainty more manageable. It facilitates contingency planning and the development of longer-term strategies.
Consequently, in addition to the annual MERICS China Forecast, we have examined the 2022 forecasts from five other organizations (Eurasia Group, Economist, EY, Control Risks and SupChina), and analyze their expectations for China’s development and foreign relations.
The aggregate results paint a pessimistic picture for 2022.
1. In a bid for domestic control, China is closing down
All forecasts predict an increasingly inward-looking China, overshadowed by the 20th Party Congress and the likely re-election of Xi Jinping. Given this underlying driver, controlling the domestic environment will be critical. This will play out in different spheres.
First, China is expected to maintain its zero-Covid policy for now. However, the infectious Omicron variant will make this increasingly difficult and Beijing will be forced to resort to tougher measures — as illustrated by the Xi’an lockdown. It is also unlikely that China will re-open its borders in 2022, according to the Economist. Eurasia Group predicts that China’s zero-Covid policy will eventually fail as it puts pressure on the economy and leads to higher public frustration, while SupChina believes the policy will remain in place at least until after the 20th Party Congress. There have been speculations that China could allow some…