Uncertain relationship with US looms as China's Communist Party marks 100 Years

Chinese government officials have been planning a year of celebrations to mark the Communist Party's centenary. But tensions with the US and the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic are threatening to overshadow the milestone.

President Xi Jinping congratulated Joe Biden on winning the US election last November, saying the two countries would "uphold the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation." After the Trump years saw China-US ties descend to what some described as their lowest point ever, there is a feeling in Beijing that the incoming administration offers a chance to reset the relationship.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi has acknowledged the two countries are at a new crossroads, and a window of hope is opening, with the chance to cooperate on climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Shi Yinhong, a professor at the Renmin University of China and a specialist in China-US relations, says the Communist Party's anniversary may actually trigger additional confrontation.

"Communist Party leaders will be delivering remarks during the anniversary highlighting their commitment to their ideology," he says. "That's likely to provoke condemnation from Western countries."

A self-driving car
Chinese automakers have been developing autonomous vehicles.

The Communist Party is hoping for a robust economy to help make the case for its style of governance. For his part, President Xi Jinping has been touting the party's success in eradicating absolute poverty. And this claim is laying the groundwork for the declaration that the party has built a "moderately prosperous society", which it is expected to make by the time of the anniversary in July.

The numbers show the party has a convincing case. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting the country will see 8.2% GDP growth this year.

The government has been working to offset the economic uncertainty of the pandemic by strengthening domestic demand and technological self-reliance. To that end it has been pushing the development of artificial intelligence, 5G networks and big data. Authorities in Beijing and other cities are eagerly building infrastructure for trialing autonomous vehicles on public roads. A Chinese government think tank estimates investment in new infrastructure projects of this kind will amount to $1.5 trillion by 2025.

But while these moves have been successful in shoring up the economy, some say they could add fuel to China's already-intense rivalry with the US in technology. This fear has seemingly been borne out by recent moves from Washington.

The US government has tightened controls on emergent technologies, including Huawei's 5G equipment. And early in January, the New York Stock Exchange announced that it would delist China Telecom, China Mobile, and China Unicom in compliance with an executive order by President Donald Trump banning American investment in Chinese firms linked to the People's Liberation Army.

Professor Shi says anti-China sentiment has taken root in US politics and that turning a new page won't be easy.

"The rivalry between China and the US will continue to be quite tense and aggressive over a range of issues, including technology, ideology and trade," he says. "It's likely that under a Biden administration, criticism and sanctions in relation to China's human rights and religious issues will be stronger too."

Regardless of the imminent change in the US presidency, most experts seem to believe that the US-China relationship will remain a source of serious concern for global stability. Leading geopolitical consulting firm Eurasia Group has listed the tensions between the two countries as number four on its annual list of top ten global risks.

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