There are real and important problems to address, but Donald Trump’s trade war will not solve them
This has not been the easiest of summers for Xi Jinping and his country. Donald Trump’s tariffs have rattled nerves in Beijing, already unsettled by the slowing economy. The ministry of finance and the central bank have had an open spat over fiscal policy. There are grumblings that the leadership invited trouble with its unabashed projection of might; was too complacent about the risks of US trade action; and is struggling to respond. But even if trade talks make progress when they resume this week, the issue is a channel for frustrations as well as the proximate cause.
The scrapping of presidential term limits this spring cemented Mr Xi’s extraordinary concentration of power. Yet in doing so it shocked and alienated even some sympathisers. Now there are signs of a pushback: gossip about political intrigue; a scathing essay from a well-known scholar. Meanwhile, a public health scandal over faulty vaccines given to children has undercut his drive to crush corruption and bring the bureaucracy into line: wasn’t it supposed to prevent things like this? The excitement engendered by these developments is in large part a sign of how rare any glimpse of disharmony has become. No one doubts that Mr Xi remains in control. The question is whether he will retain the same leeway in pursuing his course as his nation enters choppier waters. Less than a year ago, Mr Xi spoke of a new era which would see China moving “closer to centre stage and making greater contributions to mankind”, in a decisive break with the long-held maxim that the country should hide its light and bide its time. Now state newspapers warn of the dangers of hubris.