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Xi’s Olympic Trials

As the Beijing Winter Olympics get underway, athletes from around the world will compete in what for President Xi Jinping is a showcase event. But, amid an uncertain economic outlook and pandemic-related concerns, the most important event in China in 2022 will likely come later this year, when the Communist Party of China’s 20th Congress decides whether to give Xi a third term as General Secretary.

In this Big Picture, Nancy Qian of Northwestern University argues that the long-run economic, cultural, and diplomatic benefits of the Games will prove to be greater than expected. More generally, Keyu Jin of the London School of Economics thinks the Chinese authorities’ sweeping regulatory and enforcement measures in 2021, by signaling that people matter more than aggregate GDP, represent a necessary “coming of age” for the country’s economy. And Fudan University’s Zhang Jun explains why China’s large population will give it an even bigger economic advantage if a post-pandemic retreat from globalization reduces cross-border migration.

But others argue that the challenges facing Xi are greater than they appear. George Soros, Chairman of the Open Society Foundations, thinks that the end of China’s credit-fueled real-estate boom, serious demographic problems, and – in particular – the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus may even threaten Xi’s political survival. To ward off challengers, warns Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, Xi may seek to bolster his support among the Chinese public by whipping up nationalist fervor – making his regime even more dangerous for the rest of the world.

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