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Xi Jinping’s Annus Horribilis

Trade disputes with the US, concerns about Chinese interference in Hong Kong, and ethnic tensions in Xinjiang all preceded Xi Jinping’s rise to power in late 2012. Their escalation in the last year is a direct result of China's shift to authoritarianism under Xi.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – China’s strongman leader can’t seem to catch a break. From the trade war with the United States to the crisis in Hong Kong to international criticism of his human-rights record, President Xi Jinping suffered major setbacks in 2019, and his prospects for 2020 appear even worse.

China could have ended the trade war with the US last May, thereby giving its flagging economy a significant boost. Yet, at the last minute, Chinese leaders backtracked on a number of issues that American negotiators had considered settled. With the US also incurring high costs from the trade war, President Donald Trump was furious, and took his revenge.

Beyond imposing new tariffs, Trump escalated his efforts to limit China’s access to vital technologies. Less than two weeks after the trade agreement collapsed, Trump signed an executive order barring US companies from using telecoms equipment from manufacturers that his administration deemed a national security risk. The most prominent of these is the Chinese tech giant Huawei, which Trump had already been targeting for months.