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Keyu Jin
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This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Keyu Jin, an economics professor at the London School of Economics and a World Economic Forum young global leader.

Project Syndicate: US President Donald Trump has touted the new “phase one” trade deal with China – which leaves many of the biggest issues unresolved – as a triumph for the United States, and his supporters seem convinced. How is the deal, which includes the Trump administration’s repeal of its designation of China as a “currency manipulator,” being viewed in China, and what are its implications for the broader bilateral relationship?

Keyu Jin: Getting China to buy more American goods is the easy part. Getting it to strengthen intellectual-property protections and open up its financial sector will help the Chinese economy in the long run. So, despite what Trump believes, the deal is no defeat for China.

In fact, the deal is not much of an achievement for either side, since it fails to address the thorniest issues, such as Chinese industrial subsidies and Trump’s attacks on Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant. But making Trump feel that he has scored a victory could be a strategic choice, as it could help to ease tensions between the two countries, thereby creating space for them to address tougher issues.

PS: You’ve often highlighted the contrast between China’s robust efforts to understand US political dynamics, and America’s consistent misjudgment of China’s mindset and intentions. If the US – and the West more broadly – did take steps to ensure that it was engaging with China on the basis of mutual understanding, would it change the relationship for the better?

KJ: The answer hinges on whether the US would be able to accept China as a country with a different political and economic model, in which a strong state leads the way in pursuing some economic and social objectives. If both sides can accept and accommodate each other’s differences, there is hope for general peace and stability.

In this sense, China is not the problem. Its aspiration remains to secure a peaceful rise, in which it is allowed to flourish without outside interference or confrontations. It will continue to champion a world order in which countries tolerate one another’s differences.

What China will not do is bow to US demands to transform its development model, say, by weakening state-owned enterprises substantially or eliminating the state’s role in directing strategic economic sectors. If the US continues to insist on such steps, peaceful coexistence, let alone constructive cooperation, will become impossible.

PS: What does Hong Kong’s unrest and Taiwan’s recent presidential election mean for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ability to achieve his goal, as you defined it in 2017, of “a smooth transition into modernity that cements the Communist Party of China’s authority and ensures his own legacy as modern China’s most significant leader”?

KJ: Internal and external pressures have been taking a political and economic toll on China. But there is a distinct difference between how political developments like the Taiwanese election and Hong Kong protests are viewed inside and outside China.

Within China, the chaos has not raised feelings of admiration or envy, let alone inspired people to challenge their government. Instead, it has reaffirmed the belief of most Chinese – particularly ordinary Chinese – in the vital importance of stability as a precondition for continued social progress and increased prosperity. In their view, some order is essential to enable more freedom. This is good for Xi and the CPC.

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Jin recommends

We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Jin's picks:

  • The Collected Stories

    The Collected Stories

    Imaginative, beautiful, creative, and touching, these stories invite readers to escape the routines of their daily lives to enter an entirely different reality. Together, they remind us of life’s many amusing eccentricities and underscore the importance of looking at them from time to time through a new lens.

  • India after Gandhi The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

    India after Gandhi The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

    An Indian historian with a global perspective, Guha offers a sharply written account of contemporary India within the context of its tumultuous past. By combining cultural, political, economic, and social perspectives, Guha paints a detailed and realistic picture of a rich and highly complex country.

From the PS Archive

From 2014
Jin attributes China's economic woes to the perpetuation of a skewed growth model. Read the commentary.

From 2016
Jin argues that Xi Jinping is no Mao Zedong, and his anti-corruption campaign is just an anti-corruption campaign. Read the commentary.

Around the web

At a WIRED Smarter conference, Jin explains what the world can learn from Chinese innovation. Watch the talk.

In a TEDx talk, Jin uncovers the complex psychology of China's one-child generation, who will be leading the country within a decade. Watch the video.;