EL GEGANT ASIÀTIC

China excels at leading 2021

Xi Jinping boasts of his pandemic management and economic success in the face of a West in crisis

China looks to 2021 with optimism and ready to build on its successes. Having overtaken the the covid-19 epidemic and with the economy growing, the distribution of its vaccines in countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America may be the definitive step towards achieving the new role it hopes to play as a world leader.

President Xi Jinping has it much easier than his Western counterparts, who are still in the midst of a long crisis.

In Beijing, a small resurgence of covid-19 in recent weeks has re-activated controls that had been relaxed in the absence of cases for months. Shops, malls, restaurants and leisure facilities are once again demanding that the health code carried by the entire population be scanned, and body temperature readers have been activated again.

According to official information, cases of local infection have been detected and close contacts have been quarantined, and always under surveillance.

Given the small number of people affected, the municipal government's warnings may seem exaggerated, but not to the Chinese public. The perception of the population is that the government is acting in a forceful way and that is why China is one of the safest places in the world, as opposed to what is happening abroad, where the epidemic is spreading out of control.

This national pride in having managed to overcome the pandemic is one of the government's great successes. The attempts to hide the outbreak by the local authorities in Wuhan, followed by the chaos in hospitals, which collapsed without medical equipment or sufficient personnel, have been forgotten. They have been buried by the speech that highlights the great collective effort, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, to defeat the virus. The deed has even entered textbooks and will be a subject of study in schools next year.

However, there is no denying the effectiveness of the Chinese health response. These days the image of the holidays in Wuhan, free of the virus, speaks for itself at a time when various Christmas celebrations in Europe have been suspended.

China was the first country to suffer from the pandemic and also the first to manage to control it. It is precisely this success that has enabled the country to revive the economy before anyone else. Exports have been boosted by the collapse of the rest of the developed economies.

It can practically be said that it will be the only major power that will close the year with an increase in its GDP. The World Bank forecasts that the Chinese economy will grow by 2% this year and by 7.8% in 2021.

The OECD is even more optimistic, raising the figure to 8%. It also estimates that the Asian giant will contribute a third of the world's growth next year.

Health and economic success mean that China unabashedly displays its triumphs and its model of governance. A recipe based on a strong government, which exercises strict control over the population in exchange for security, can be seductive in times of great difficulty for democracies.

Beijing also sets the international agenda with initiatives such as the signing of the RCEP treaty, which brings together 15 Asian-Pacific countries, 2.3 billion people and a third of the world's GDP. In addition, it has finally closed an investment agreement with the EU that had been under negotiation for 7 years.

It also marks the step forward in the fight against climate change, as it has committed to achieving peak CO2 emissions in 2030 and neutrality of emissions in 2060. It is a commitment that will mean many sacrifices for China, the main emitter of polluting gases, but which obliges the rest of the nations - and particularly the new US administration led by Joe Biden.

Beijing has pledged that its vaccines will be "a global good". Their distribution may be the final push to project their international profile and make us forget the mistakes made with the supply of masks and defective medical equipment.

So far, Chinese pharmaceutical companies have given little information, but three vaccines are already being tested under the emergency premise. Sinopharm, Sinovac Biotech and CanSino Biologics have already signed agreements to distribute more than 400 million doses in the coming months in countries in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. The first candidates are the states where the clinical trials have been carried out, such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil and Turkey, among others. In China there were not enough active outbreaks to test the vaccines.

The vaccines are an opportunity for the Chinese pharmaceutical industry to show its competence and quality standards. And above all, if they work, they will allow the government to demonstrate its contribution to the eradication of covid-19.

However, in 2021 Beijing will also face problems. China needs to control its debt and activate domestic consumption. Abroad, Chinese companies will continue to face difficulties due to their lack of transparency and the close relations they have with the government. There will also be increased pressure to respect human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. And Taiwan will continue to be a challenge on the horizon.

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