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Xi’s wrong lesson from ‘Century of Humiliation’

Xi’s wrong lesson from ‘Century of Humiliation’

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,President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of China's ruling Communist Party in Beijing, China on Oct. 16, 2022. - AP

“CHINA will not close its door to the world. We will only become more and more open.”

Such was President Xi Jinping’s promise in his speech to the Communist Party’s five-yearly congress – in 2017. How things have changed.

In 2022, with Xi’s unrelenting zero-Covid policies in full swing, China is more closed off than it has been in generations.

In the two-and-a-half years since the June quarter of 2020, the total number of outbound tourists is equivalent to about one month’s worth at the end of 2019.

International flights are operating at levels comparable to where they were at the peak of the pandemic. Overseas visitors must still endure a minimum of seven days’ government quarantine.

Reform and opening up

China’s Covid response was the first major policy decision mentioned in Xi’s party congress speech this year. He shows no sign of wavering.

The spirit of outwardness that’s run through China’s official rhetoric since Deng Xiaoping initiated the era of “reform and opening up” four decades ago is in broad retreat.

Openness, mentioned 33 times in the 2017 speech, got just 17 in the one delivered from the podium on Sunday.

Obsessed with China’s place among nations and his own role in restoring its greatness, Xi appears to be misreading one of the most important lessons from millennia of Chinese history – it’s always been strongest when it has been most open to the world, and weakest when it has been most isolated.

“The leadership has this illusion: ‘We used to be so closed, we used to be self-reliant. We could just go back,’”

According to Kent Deng, a professor of China’s economic history at the London School of Economics.

That switch “will cost China, will injure China in a fundamental way,” he said. “China will become poor and insignificant in the world.”

On metric after metric, China’s global isolation has accelerated. Tougher regulations of internet usage was one of the first policies introduced within weeks of Xi’s elevation to the presidency in 2012. Facebook, Google and Twitter all remain banned.

Imported movies accounted for just 15.5% of box office revenues last year, down from 51.5% in 2012. The value of imported books and magazines in 2021 fell to its lowest level since 2017.

The number of students starting further education in Australia in the year through July was barely more than half that of 2019. Indian students may soon overtake them. The number in the United States in the 2020–21 academic year was its lowest since 2015.

Remittance payments from overseas citizens were slumping even before Covid-19. The US$18.29bil (RM86.33bil) received in 2019 was down by nearly half from its peak of US$33.1bil (RM156.3bil) in 2015, before the Trump administration took office and launched its trade war.

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