China Political Stories in 2015 — Which Will Be the Biggest?

The Wall Street Journal 2015/01/06

Anyone who has spent time observing Chinese politics is keenly aware of the country’s capacity for making fools of prognosticators. This past year was a case in point.

The formal arrest of former security czar Zhou Yongkang, the detention or imprisonment of prominent government critics previously assumed to be safe and the production of an unprecedented top-level blueprint for reforming the legal system demonstrated a surprising boldness on the part of Beijing in the second year of President Xi Jinping’s term. On the flip side, an explosion of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and the U.S. Justice Department’s indictment of five Chinese military officers on cyberespionage charges showed how that boldness could backfire in unexpected ways.

And yet, what fun is it trying to understand this place if you can’t polish off the crystal ball every once in a while? We’ve listed a few of our own ideas below, in no particular order.

The Fox Hunt

After more than a year going after targets at home, China’s graft busters have trained their gaze on corrupt officials and their family members who have fled abroad. Authorities put the value of illicit assets spirited out of China in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Operation Fox Hunt, as it has been dubbed, has already resulted in the apprehension of 428 suspects from 60 countries and regions, according to state media reports, and it shows no signs of slowing down. A major challenge is the U.S., a popular destination for skittish Chinese elites that has no extradition treaty with China. Is this one area in which the world’s two biggest powers will find a way to cooperate, or will it feed the flames of mutual suspicion?

Hong Kong Aftermath

The 10-week occupation of key Hong Kong streets by demonstrators calling for universal suffrage was the largest pro-democracy protest to happen on Chinese territory since 1989. Now that the streets have been cleared, how will Beijing react? Will it sacrifice C.Y. Leung, the city’s unpopular chief executive? Will it clamp down and exact revenge on protest leaders?  Already, a number of those involved in the protests have been prevented from traveling to mainland China and Macau, and it seems likely the government will increase surveillance in the city, compromising what was once considered a haven for critics of the Communist Party.

The New Silk Road

The Silk Road of old came and went in concert with major Chinese dynasties. With the U.S. persisting in its “pivot to Asia,” Beijing is now determined to rebuild the Silk Road relationships that formerly placed China at the apex of a churning exchange of global commerce and culture. And it isn’t messing around: Already, China has built new border cities almost from scratch, and committed $40 billion to a “Silk Road Fund” to help lubricate the flow of goods and money in Asia. Will these efforts succeed in binding the region to China? And if so, what will that mean for China’s heft in the rest of the world?

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