Xi Jinping asserts himself, Donald Trump returns and Taiwan is at risk. Joe Biden will face a complicated 2022 and the future of the world depends on how he handles it.
The competition between China and the United States will escalate in 2022. It is inevitable. It is the only way these most powerful countries can interact. There is no valid international forum in which to settle their differences. Throughout history, the world has been safest when there is a balance of power; however, China and the United States do not appear to be negotiating an entente in the Pacific. On the contrary, both sides have taken an aggressive stance and will continue to do so.
President Xi Jinping promised he would not pass on to the next generation the challenge of reclaiming Taiwan and reuniting the country. He thinks he can succeed. This conflict is much more than a territorial dispute. It is the cornerstone China needs to control the Pacific and become the world’s most powerful nation. China’s gross domestic product is 70% that of the United States and, thanks to its command of artificial intelligence, 5G connections and cybersecurity, Xi expects to match the U.S. within the next decade.
The National People’s Congress Will Reconfirm Xi, While the US Election Will Weaken Biden
In the 20th century, the United States defeated the four great powers threatening its hegemony: Imperial Germany in World War I, the Empire of Japan, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. China now poses an even greater threat, and it is unclear how President Joe Biden is going to face it.
Deterrence is the best strategy for the United States: a massive presence in the Pacific region that would make China question the advantage of attacking Taiwan. Biden is strengthening his military position with an alliance of democratic nations against autocracies.
However, it is unclear whether this is sufficient. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the defeat in this unnecessary war, weighs very heavily. It has psychological consequences for both the people and the administration. It seems unlikely that the White House will have enough popular support to defend Taiwan.
In any case, Xi may postpone the invasion. He has as many problems at home as Biden, or even more. The pandemic, border closures and the disruption of global supply chains have forced him to reinforce domestic consumption, to grow internally more than externally.
Furthermore, Xi is in a hurry. A low birthrate and a higher life expectancy resulting from economic progress are great liabilities. Not enough children or resources to care for the elderly. Tax revenue is also lacking. The state does not collect enough and fears going into too much debt. Austerity is necessary. All of a sudden, there is not that much money left for foreign investment, to keep building the new silk route — the infrastructure network that must be the basis of a new multipolar order.
Biden is in a hurry as well. The Republican minority is putting too many spokes in his wheel. There is considerable attrition in Congress, and that will only increase in 2022. Whatever Biden does not get passed before the November midterm elections will not be likely to see the light of day afterward. It is quite likely that Democrats will lose control of the House of Representatives. Even if they win the popular vote, Democrats will lose seats.
American democracy is very unfair and dysfunctional nowadays, to the delight of Xi, who is rubbing his hands while looking at the stability of his authoritarian system. It is very likely that the Communist Party will grant him a third term in the fall, which is unprecedented. He has been in power for 10 years and nobody will overshadow him in the next Congress.
Trump Casts His Long Shadow Again; Republicans Want Him More Than They Want Democracy
On the other hand, Donald Trump is once more casting his long shadow. Republicans seem to want him more than they want democracy itself. They have manipulated congressional districts in order to promote their candidates and they will hamper the Democratic vote wherever a race is close. They can do this through the state legislatures they control, where they pass anti-democratic bills. In Georgia, for example, people are barred from handing out water to those who are in line to vote.
The decline of American democracy, Biden’s weakness and Xi’s consolidation of power, the economic difficulties both are facing, the decisive fight for Taiwan and command of artificial intelligence will increase pressure on the world in 2022.