Overconfidence pervades China, from the president to the students

Reckless measures harm the economy and postpone Xi Jinping's ambition of surpassing the United States.

"China's progress is harmed by overconfidence." When the newest gross domestic product estimates were released on Monday, a Chinese economist suggested as much.

Focusing on the 8.1 percent growth for the whole year of 2021, which would push the Chinese economy to as much as 80 percent of the US GDP in dollar terms, would be a constructive approach. However, a more recent picture reveals only 4% increase in the October-December period.

"Given the severe economic recession we're seeing right now," the economist stated, "the day China exceeds the United States is going away, not closer."

Meanwhile, a stunning analysis by a famous academic on the issue of overconfidence has been widely discussed in China.

In a recent speech, Yan Xuetong, head of Tsinghua University's Institute of International Studies, raised the alarm about today's students' unbelievable prejudice.

"Usually have a strong feeling of superiority and confidence," Yan added, "and they tend to look at other nations from a condescending viewpoint, look at international relations via wishful thinking, and believe that China's foreign policy goals can be easily realized."

Yan Xuetong says Chinese university students born in 2000 or later "usually have a strong sense of superiority and confidence, and they tend to look at other countries from a condescending perspective."

"They think humankind's universal values such as peace, morality, fairness and justice are China's inherent traditions. They think that only China is just, while other countries, especially Western countries, are evil."

Yan's observations of these trends at his prestigious institution, from which President Xi Jinping graduated, sent shockwaves across the world.

The Tsinghua director stated that strong viewpoints published on the internet have a particularly negative influence, and that students embrace even implausible "conspiracy theories" pushed by online superstars as common sense.

Yan feels that the type of thinking he has noticed will result in future troubles. As a result, he believes that international relations professors should educate students how to recognize China's past and respect its complexity, as well as how to appreciate the world's variety.

Yan is a famous realism academic in China. He said a decade ago that Deng Xiaoping's foreign policy ideal of "conceal goals and hide claws" was outmoded and predicted that tensions between China and the United States would worsen.

Xi had recently been elected China's president, and because he and Yan shared similar thinking styles, the professor earned clout and fame.

Even Yan, who previously advocated for a tougher posture against the US, now feels the present trend is excessive.

The arrogant and dangerous attitudes of Chinese students are a direct outcome of patriotic education, which the Chinese Communist Party has prioritized.

China's increased confidence was regarded as a positive development only a year ago. China boasted that it was the only country that had effectively contained COVID-19 and recovered economically from the epidemic.

As professor Jin Canrong was talking about declining U.S. power a year ago, Xi Jinping was repeatedly stressing "confidence" in his party's governance.

According to Jin Canrong, an assistant dean of Renmin University of China's School of International Studies, China will catch up to the United States in terms of GDP in 2025, and then overtake it in terms of true scientific and technical capabilities in 2035. Jin said that by then, the country's military dominance in both the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean will be obvious.

According to Jin, the United States will be no match for China in terms of industrial production capacity, and China will overtake the United States in terms of overall national strength, resulting in increased worldwide influence. These comments were made approximately a month before top US and Chinese diplomats fought in Alaska last March.

Jin's confidence was bolstered by economic slowdown in the United States, which, according to some commentators, had failed to respond to the pandemic.

Opinion pieces discussed the United States' decreasing national strength, while Xi, who also serves as the party's general secretary, emphasized "trust in the system," which refers to the party's control.

But things took a turn for the worse this month. The first instance of the omicron coronavirus strain was verified in Beijing, China's capital, on Saturday.

On Monday, it was revealed that births in China declined for the fifth year in a row in 2021, to their lowest level since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. This foreshadows the impending social depopulation.

The Xi administration implemented a stringent zero-coronavirus policy after failing to respond to a coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan, Hubei Province.

A man gets throat swabbed in Beijing on Jan. 17. The Chinese capital's first reported omicron case prompted stepped-up measures ahead of the Winter Games.   © AP

Within China, by the second half of 2020, it was widely assumed that the Xi administration had completely contained the virus.

The Xi government got overconfident as the Chinese economy rebounded fast until the first half of 2021, while Western economies plummeted. In Chinese civilization, this resulted in a heightened mood, tinged with narcissism.

Multiple references to confidence can be found in the "third resolution on history," which was approved during the party's 19th Central Committee's sixth plenary session in November.

The country's "successful experience" with its zero-coronavirus policy has already been factored in as Xi's political triumph as he seeks a third term as China's top leader at the party's upcoming quinquennial national congress this September.

Changing the policy is now impossible.

As a result, there will almost certainly be tight mobility restrictions over the extended Chinese New Year vacation, which begins later this month, as well as before an annual session of China's parliament, the National People's Conference, in March, and the party's national congress in the fall.

According to a resident of China's northern provinces, "For the first time in three years, I will be unable to travel home over the Chinese New Year vacation period. Consumption will be significantly affected."

Another resident of the country's southern region stated that all people had been compelled to undergo a PCR test within 24 hours. "This is the third time we've been told to," the southerner explained. "I don't want to, but what can I do?" says the narrator.

With the Beijing Winter Olympics set to begin on February 4, it is possible that some sections of the country would put blanket restrictions on individuals attempting to return home.

Decorative lanterns mark the coming of the Lunar New Year holidays at Yu Garden, following new COVID cases in Shanghai on Jan. 18, 2022.   © Reuters

Beginning in the first quarter of 2022, the Chinese economy will be under severe downward pressure. Although some economists believe the economy will improve in the second half of this year, they believe that achieving 5% growth will be challenging.

There have been human-made faults in addition to the zero-coronavirus policy. The economy is being dragged down by rapid and strict commands from Beijing's Zhongnanhai, where Chinese officials have offices. The housing market, which contributes significantly to the economy, has been harmed by government policies. The pressure on tech behemoths, as well as the gaming and education industries, has exacerbated the situation.

The Japan Center for Economic Research forecasted in late 2021 that China's nominal GDP will surpass that of the United States in 2033, five years later than its prior projection.

Only a year ago, the JCER anticipated that China will "as early as 2028" overtake the US in nominal GDP.

The JCER identified two things as reasons for the delay: slower productivity development as a result of harsher Chinese government controls on private enterprises and a labor scarcity as a result of long-term population reduction.

The first element is an unintended consequence of Xi's erratic and aggressive actions. One may argue that Xi poses a threat to China's economy.

One Chinese political source whispered: "If Xi fails to improve the economic situation by the Communist Party's national congress in autumn, it could affect his power."

Xi Jinping delivers a speech at a New Year's gathering organized by the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on Dec. 31, 2021.   © Xinhua/AP

After all, Xi himself set the great objective of "essentially accomplishing a socialist modernization by 2035" during the party's last national conference in 2017.

The reasoning at the time was that Xi had accelerated China's objective of surpassing the United States by 15 years. Xi has a responsibility he put on himself, and he cannot afford to let the strategy fail.

However, Xi and his colleagues have caused a "policy-induced downturn." Overconfidence has led to near-narcissism among China's top leaders, officials, and regular residents, including Tsinghua University students, clouding their objective judgment.

The announcement of China's economic slowdown in the fourth quarter of 2021 shocked the globe on Monday. On the same day, Xi gave a video address at a World Economic Forum-related event.

"Shifts in the domestic and international economic climate have put great strain on China's economy," he remarked, "but... we are confident in its future."

Is his "assurance" distinct from the harmful overconfidence that exists both domestically and internationally? Will it lead to policy changes that are more flexible? It's too soon to tell.

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