This Chinese New Year will usher in the year of the Rat. In China, rats symbolise wealth and prosperity, and if we think about the country’s current standing on the world stage, then China is off to a good start for the New Year.

Under President Xi Jinping’s leadership the country has risen among the ranks, becoming an authoritarian communist superpower. So, with this new lunar year, what can we expect from the rapidly growing red giant?

Coronavirus outbreak

On December 31, 2019 one of the first outbreaks was reported in Wuhan. Since then, nearly 600 cases have been reported, with the virus having spread not just to other cities (Beijing and Shanghai), but to neighbouring countries as well (Japan, Thailand, and South Korea). As of January 22, 17 people have died from the virus in China. Known as a new form of coronavirus that causes pneumonia, it has been confirmed that it can pass from person to person. With the influx of people travelling to celebrate the new lunar year, there is concern that the number of cases may rise. For this reason, severe travel restrictions have been imposed on five Chinese cities, including Wuhan, effectively cutting 20 million people off from the rest of the world. Healthwise, China is not off to a great start.

Trade war with America

For the past two years, China and America have been embroiled in a trade war. Tariffs and accusations were constantly thrown at each other, and economies got hurt. Recently though, Trump and Xi reached a breakthrough where both have agreed to ease tensions. America will halve some of its tariffs, and China will no longer engage in intellectual-property theft. There is still much left to be negotiated, of course. But with a return to more amicable relations, China can expect its economic growth to finally pick up again this year after the trade war helped whittle it down.

Population crisis

While wealth seems to be on the cards, the country has an ageing population that is threatening long-term economic growth. Like other developed countries, China’s birth rate isn’t doing so well. But unlike most, China is not rich enough to support its burgeoning elderly population. Because not enough babies are being born, the country won’t be able to maintain its economic growth in the long run if an increasing number of its citizens area at death’s door. Unfortunately, the one-child policy ended up working a little too well. If China wants an increased birth rate, it should probably get to work this year by getting rid of some of its more repressive birth policies and consider what other neighbours, such as Japan, are doing.

Assertive foreign policy: The Belt and Road initiative and nine-dash line

China is currently building the modern version of the Silk Road. Traversing the Eurasian continent, it will establish a new platform for global trading, and ‘new ways for global economic governance’. Since China has invested nearly 200 billion dollars into this idea, you can bet that for all its talk about shared governance, it will have the last say. The BRI is set to be finished by 2049, China’s centenary. Very symbolic in terms of how far the country has come.

Considering what they’ve also been doing in the South China Sea, China won’t relinquish its aims for supremacy anytime soon. China’s disputed nine-dash line claims sea territory from the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, to name a few. Not only has it started to build islands and naval ports to support this claim, but quite outrageously even included this ambition in a recent kids’ film, Abominable, that openly shows this nine-dash line.

The Chinese zodiac system dictates that the rat comes first out of all the zodiac animals. China, it seems, is determined to do just that this year, and for the years to come.

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