Elizabeth Economy in a Wide Ranging Conversation About China

Elizabeth Economy

Elizabeth C. Economy is serving as the Senior Advisor for China to the Secretary of Commerce. She is on leave from her role as a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Previously she served as the Asia Director at the Council for Foreign Relations. Her past books include The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State and more recently The World According to China. The views expressed in this podcast are her own and do not reflect the official position of the US Government or the Commerce Department.

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But if you think that China can change and that Xi Jinping is not inevitable and Xi Jinping two and three and four and five are not inevitable, then I think that leads you to a slightly different set of policy recommendations. A set that’s probably more open to discussion to ensuring that we continue to quote ‘Engage with China.’

Elizabeth C. Economy

Key Highlights

  • Introduction – 0:43
  • China’s Foreign Policy Priorities – 2:57
  • BRI & Chinese Investments – 11:21
  • Indo-Pacific Economic Framework – 22:25
  • Future Issues and Concerns – 28:23

Podcast Transcript

Over the past few months a lot has changed in China even as so much stays the same. For starters, Xi Jinping broke precedent when he secured a third term as China’s leader. From an international perspective, his ten years in power have noticeably changed the dynamics of geopolitics. His wolf warrior diplomacy has introduced a far more aggressive tone into China’s foreign relations and relationships with other nations. But at the same time, China faces many constraints from international institutions, the United States, and its own limitations. Still, the rise of China raises important questions about what it really wants. 

So, to answer these questions I reached out to Elizabeth C. Economy. She has written well read books including The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State and more recently The World According to China. She previously served as the Asia Director at the Council for Foreign Relations. But currently she is on leave from her position as a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, because she is serving as the Senior Advisor for China to the Secretary of Commerce. But please note the views expressed are her own and do not reflect the official position of the US Government or the Commerce Department. 

Now if you like this podcast, please share it with friends and family over the Holidays. You can always help with a 5 star rating on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. You can also leave the podcast a small holiday donation at democracyparadox.com or a monthly contribution at Patreon. Like always you can send questions or comments to me at jkempf@democracyparadox.com. Here is my conversation with Elizabeth C. Economy…


Elizabeth Economy, welcome to the Democracy Paradox.

Elizabeth Economy

Thanks so much, Justin. Great to be here with you.


Well, Liz, your new book is called The World According to China and that has a lot of different meanings. One of which would beg the question of what the world would look like if China made all the rules. Why don’t we start there, from this high-level idea and work our way back from it. What would a China-led international order actually look like? What kind of rules would it have? How would it be different than the current rules-based order that came into being after World War II?

Elizabeth Economy

Yeah, thanks. So, really good question. I wrote the book in part because there was so much debate around just that question, even though people didn’t frame it as well as you. But really what difference did it make? You know, there’s a whole debate around whether China’s just trying to make the world safe for autocracy or China’s trying to reform the international system around the margins. So, as I watched the evolution of Xi Jinping over the past 10 years and began to appreciate more fully the scope of his ambition, it seemed to me that there was a lot more to it. China was not simply trying to reform, but really transform the international system.

So, I think we can see based on Xi Jinping’s speeches. You know, there are three volumes or more maybe now with a couple thousand pages worth of his speeches. He pretty much does lay out his ambition and his strategy pretty clearly. What I found was that it existed across a number of dimensions. So first, the world would be different because China would have reclaimed what it considers to be its sovereign territory. That, of course, includes fully incorporating Hong Kong, which it has now done, but also Taiwan, a vast swath of the South China Sea, and also parts of Bhutan. There’s territorial disputes with India and the Senkaku Islands with Japan. So, under Xi Jinping a transformed world order would have a much larger China with a much greater maritime reach as well.

So, I say that Xi Jining is looking to redraw the very geographic boundaries of China. I think that’s one way that the world would look different. Second China would be the dominant power in the Asia. I think it’s clear that Xi Jinping wants the United States out. We can see and this is an area of continued debate, but I feel pretty strongly that I’m right on this, that is China trying to export its model. I make the argument that it’s not trying to export its model wholesale, but it is exporting elements of its model.

This gets very directly to your question, which is that China has its own values around things like internet control, around human rights, what it believes to be the collective interests that the state determines the interests and the range of freedoms for individuals as opposed to individuals having inalienable rights. So, it has very different views on that. It does business differently in terms of significant state control over the private sector. So, the question then becomes if China’s able through things like the Belt and Road Initiative and through its efforts to transform norms and values in international institutions.

So, China will support Russia, for example, in the UN Human Rights Commission. We see what it’s been doing to the Uighurs in Xinjiang, so we can see that it has these different elements of its norms and values. It wants to cement them. It wants to cement them in international institutions. So, the way to get that done is also by doing political capacity building in other countries. I think that’s very much part of the Belt and Road Initiative. So, if it has willing partners in countries that frankly speaking lean authoritarian, then it is able to help Tanzania write its internet governance laws, help the Nigerian leadership at some point learn how to control social media to suppress dissent.

So, in this way a world according to China would be one in which there would be not the free flow of information. We’d have siloed areas of free-flowing information perhaps to the United States and Europe and its allies. But large chunks of the world, the government would have shutoff switches, which is something else that the Chinese have proposed. A central government would be able to shut off any device that is connected to the internet, so people simply can’t receive information that’s coming across. I think it would be a pretty radically transformed world.


So, when Barack Obama was president, he oftentimes complained that his inbox would become full and China never really answers those concerns, those global issues. It didn’t really step up to the plate. It allowed the United States to act the role of global hegemon and really only wanted its say when it didn’t really require much in terms of responsibilities or obligations globally. Does China really want to supplant the United States as a global hegemon? Is it comfortable with just being in a multi polar world or does it actually want to be the dominant player within the international scene?

Elizabeth Economy

So, I say that China wants the rights without the responsibilities. It wants the right to spread its values, to have its norms, its interests reflected in the international system in a way that they currently are not, but frankly have increasingly become over the past decade. But the best test case ever was during the Trump administration when the United States began to pull out of any number of international agreements, arrangements, institutions, the Paris Climate Accord, the World Health Organization, UN Human Rights Commission, Iran Nuclear deal. So, one after the other and there, there certainly would’ve been more to come. I mean, I think that President Trump even talked about withdrawing from NATO at one point.

So that was a moment and I remember it very clearly when a lot of media people in the sort of China field began to say this is China’s moment. As you say, it’s going to step up to the plate. It’s going to seize the opportunity. It’s going to fill the vacuum. This was the dominant narrative. But as I looked across the range of issues what I saw was something very different. There was no evidence, frankly speaking, that China was stepping up to claim the mantle, that China was stepping up to forge a new agreement on climate change. If you stop to think about when we got the new agreement on methane emissions, that happened after President Biden came to power and the US proposed this and pushed for this. China signed onto it, but it came as a result of the US led initiative.

So, in area after area, I think we’ve seen that when it comes to global challenges, China is not prepared to step up and lead in a way that commits both the human and the financial capital that is necessary to forge difficult international agreements. For a long time, people felt as though China’s foreign ministry had a very thin bench and I think that was true probably two decades ago. That’s no longer the case. So, I think this is a very calculated decision on their part to intervene when and if, and only if, frankly, they believe that their direct interests are being affected and to shape international institutions and norms in ways that will redound positively to them. So, I think they continue to pursue primarily what I would consider to be a very narrow self-interest.

Let me say one caveat to that which is it doesn’t mean that when they launch something like the Belt and Road Initiative, they don’t also have a broader understanding of geostrategic need of a desire to help the emerging economies meet their vast infrastructure needs. I think that all exists, but what I would argue was that if China didn’t see a very direct political and economic benefit to itself from this, it wouldn’t do it.


Let me ask you about the Belt and Road Initiative specifically then. It’s one of those examples where China has actually stepped up to the plate in a way where it’s actually getting involved. It’s making investments around the world, but there’s a lot of criticism behind it that it’s very much geared towards China’s interests as you kind of put it just a moment ago. Is the BRI really just a problem in any shape or form? Is that something that threatens American interests existentially or does the United States really only have a concern over its execution?

Elizabeth Economy

So, you have to start with where the BRI started which was back in 2013. In its inception, it was really about China connecting lesser developed parts of the country to external markets. There was a geostrategic element to it because some Chinese foreign policy analysts and some strategic thinktanks believed that China would be better served by looking outside of traditional East Asia, which was already kind of sewn up by the United States in many respects, and looking toward emerging economies in Africa. It began with three overland quarters, three maritime quarters, again, focused primarily on exporting overcapacity and linking up poorer regions of the country to external markets and helping to meet others’ infrastructure needs.

Since that time, it’s expanded significantly. Right now, we have a Digital Silk Road. We have a Health Silk Road. There’s an Environmental Silk Road, a Green Silk Road, so it’s clearly morphed in many different directions. There’s also, as I mentioned earlier, a political component to this. So, not only exporting the sort of digital infrastructure, not only 5G or the BeiDou satellite system or fiber optic cables, but also exporting values that can go along with surveillance equipment. So, you have the political component to it and then you also have the strategic. China established its first military logistics base in Djibouti. There are clearly more bases to come.

So, you ask, is it in its form challenging or is there something else? I would say parts of its form are challenging. The values element of this, at least, in my mind is challenging. That’s not something that serves US interests. The way that China has pursued the Belt and Road, just the infrastructure part of it has also emerged as challenging because, as you suggest, they’ve pursued it in a way that doesn’t abide by international standards. So, there are labor issues and environmental concerns. China doesn’t really do very robust environmental and social impact assessments in the way that most Western companies at this point undertake. We’ve seen a lot of protests around these issues.

There’s also the issue of debt. This has received a lot of attention and my take on this is that China never went out with the idea of making these countries indebted to it so that it could claim resources. I don’t believe that was ever part of China’s strategy. Has it taken advantage? Has it pursued this as an alternative ss countries have found themselves in financial distress because neither China nor the host country looked adequately at the ability of the country to repay the loan that China was giving to do this infrastructure investment? You know, it has taken advantage, but I don’t think it was part of its original plan.

So, to answer your question, I would say there are elements of the Belt and Road that would be of concern no matter what. There are elements where I think we could see it as a positive sum game if in fact it was done in a way that adhered to international standards. I think in this regard, the early criticism of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which was started by China and grew to include virtually all major economies except the United States and maybe one or two others. I think that this was China’s effort to have a lending bank that would be focused on infrastructure that would operate at international standards unlike China Exim Bank and China Development Bank.

I think that that was a positive initiative and I said it at the time. Frankly, I wrote a short piece that said we should join. We should support it and we should be part of it. You know, we didn’t support it. We didn’t join it. In the end, it’s almost a non-player, frankly, relatively speaking. I mean, it’s capitalized at a very low level generally speaking. It behaves better, not perfectly, but better, certainly than China Development and Exim bank. But it hasn’t had the impact I think that anybody anticipated. I think people thought it would be a much bigger deal than it turned out to be. But to me that kind of effort should be encouraged.


At the same time, the AIIB as an institution has a counterweight to China through Japan. That probably leaves China a little bit hesitant to empower that institution too much because with the BRI, they have complete control. With the AIIB, they’re contending with some other countries that have significant weight, particularly within the region. I continue to read about how Japan has significant influence within a lot of countries because it’s one of the major investors in a lot of these countries, sometimes outstripping China in terms of the size of its investments and its contributions to those countries. I mean, is that part of the reason why China might be a little bit hesitant to empower the AIIB?

Elizabeth Economy

So, I think there are two different parts to this. One is that there are other shareholders and other countries that do weigh in on AIIB investments, and it has an international board of advisors. But frankly speaking, if China were actually trying to lead in high quality infrastructure, then it should look to increase the role of the AIIB, because now you’ve got China actually in the leadership role of a potentially truly international standard operating organization and bank.

So again, if China had that ambition, then I think you would see it seize AIIB and probably reorient some of its financing away from China Development Bank and China Exim Bank to the AIIB, because what could be better for a country that truly wants to lead the international system in a positive way than sitting at the top of a bank that is respected and that operates according to international standards. It could actually really inflate its reputation if it would expand on the position of the AIIB.

But it hasn’t, which I think is the point that you’re getting at and also reinforces the point that I made earlier about China’s true ambitions. It doesn’t really want a bank that has that much independent operational ability and frankly, a reasonably strong leader, Jin Liqun, who actually wants to have the bank operate according to international standards. So, I think it’s challenging for Beijing in that regard.

You’re also quite right about the role that Japan. People are always surprised to find out that Japan, for example, is a larger source of investment in Asia than China is. Everybody thinks China’s the biggest investor everywhere and it’s not true. But they announce their investments and their investments are capped under a big brand: Belt and Road Initiative. Whereas Japan, the United States, other European economies don’t have that kind of branding. So, what our private companies are doing, which is substantial throughout the Global South, doesn’t get the same kind of recognition.

I’ll just also mention that when it comes to Japan poll after poll in Southeast Asian, when they ask ‘Who do you want to be the leader in the region?’ It’s not China. I have to say that it’s not even the US generally speaking. Japan usually sits right on top because they’re seen as a source of high quality investment and support and capacity building without having all the politics laid in.


Now, obviously China has had a lot of inroads through its investments, through its diplomacy, particularly throughout the Global South, especially within Africa. What does China offer other countries that the United States either will not or cannot?

Elizabeth Economy

So, I think it offers such an attractive package. I think that’s number one. That it will provide the money. It will provide the technology. It will provide the labor and it looks so easy right from the beginning. I think that’s attractive. It doesn’t quote meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, which means there’s no hesitation about doing business with the worst autocrats. Whereas the United States, obviously we’re not perfect, but at times we actually pull back and say, ‘Well, we’re not going to support investment in this country. We’re not going to maintain military ties with this country because look what it’s doing here and there and to its people, et cetera.’ So, it has no limitations in terms of where it will invest for political reasons and I think that obviously is attractive as well.

Again, it operates at a lower standard, so at least in the initial part of its screening when it does investments, it’s not enforcing higher environmental, higher social, and greater transparency and fiscal responsibility. So, at the outset, it seems like a great deal. Again, what often transpires is further down the line, you get all of the externalities associated with that kind of investment. That’s why you see so many protests throughout Africa and elsewhere where Belt and Road projects have developed. The people sometimes don’t believe that they’re benefiting.

Having said all of that, it is the case that some of what China’s been doing is very effective and it’s providing training opportunities, student exchanges, it’s funding them, it’s supporting the deployment of satellite TV in villages that never had television. So, all of this activity, what we would consider to be soft power activities. Well, I don’t think that China does a very good job overall. But you can’t deny that it’s made inroads and that it’s largess in this respect has not gone unnoticed in Africa.


Now, whenever we think about things that China does well to be able to attract other countries, the natural inclination is to say the United States should just do that and do it more and do it better. Regarding the BRI, specifically in the book you write, “The United States cannot and should not attempt to match the BRI. Instead, it should leverage its own strengths and those of its democratic allies around supporting growth that is rooted in the rule of law, transparency and sustainability.” It’s something that I wrestle with a lot. This idea that the United States should focus on its strengths rather than just countering China’s efforts or China’s strengths. Can you give an example of where the United States has leveraged or maybe can leverage in the future its current strengths in a way that doesn’t just act as a reaction to China?

Elizabeth Economy

Sure. So, now you’re giving me an opportunity to sell my current institution. I’ve been sitting at the Department of Commerce for two years right now as the Senior Advisor to the Secretary for China. We have this major initiative, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is exactly about that. Right? It’s about focusing on developing a regulatory framework that is transparent and corruption free, that has high labor standards. It’s about doing energy efficient and clean infrastructure. It’s about enhancing supply chain resiliency. So, it’s bringing all the best of the United States plus other advanced economies in the region like Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and having them work with the emerging economies of the region.

So, it’s 14 economies total in the Indo-Pacific framework. The logic behind it is that you’re going to create an investment environment throughout the region that is going to be attractive to high quality investment. But you’re going to get the best of the American companies and the South Korean companies and the Japanese companies investing in the emerging economies, because the environment and the landscape has been transformed in a way that is going to make it attractive. So, I think it’s still in the early stages. It was just launched last May. I can tell you we did a ministerial meeting in Los Angeles where a program that I actually worked on on digital upskilling came into being.

So, this is an example of what the US can do well, but differently. We pulled together 14 of our best technology companies and asked them to support 500,000 digital upscaling opportunities for women and girls in the emerging economies of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, IPEF as it’s called. I have to say we aimed for 10. We were oversubscribed and some companies like IBM and Google are pledging to do even more than 500,000. They’re going to do a million. It was so exciting. Then the trade minister from Fiji and from Malaysia stood up and the trade minister from Fiji said, ‘This is exactly why it is so great to be a member of IPEF.’

So, bringing the power of our private sector to bear. I mean, frankly, many of these companies were already, not all, but many of them were already engaged in the regions. Some of them were already doing this kind of digital upskilling work on training women as well as others on cybersecurity or just how to design a website or just bringing them the financial, digital literacy to be able to get their goods onto the global market. But it had never been brought together in a way that was a public-private partnership in that form. Again, maybe this is a little bit like China cause there’s a branding around it.

So, it’s really exciting to see and the more that the US can do that kind of public-private partnership, bringing what is so great about American companies and those of our allies and partners together with a government initiative to help other countries grow in ways that are sustainable and inclusive, I think the better. That’s what we bring that’s different. Honestly, countries really want investments like that. Sometimes it’s just they don’t have the regulatory infrastructure that’s attractive to a lot of our companies. So, by helping them develop that infrastructure, that’s part of the bargain.


Is there any concern that by developing the infrastructure, it could be viewed as imposing the infrastructure rather than them working with these other countries? That the developing countries are actually working as partners, rather than being people that are just being told that these are rules that you’re going to have to just put in place?

Elizabeth Economy

So, one of the great things about IPEF is that everything was negotiated with all the countries and no country has to sign on. There are four different pillars. There’s a digital trade pillar that USTR is leading, but commerce leads the others. Every country can choose whether or not to sign on to pillars 1-2-3-4, 2-3-4, 1 and 4, whatever. So, they’re part of the negotiating process. It’s not as though the United States came in or even the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand came in with a pre-baked set of norms and standards and said, this is what it is. All of it is negotiated with everybody. Of course, we’re proposing language, but they’re proposing language too.

Every country makes a decision about whether it wants to sign on to a pillar or four pillars or whatever. So, I think there was a real effort to do the opposite of what you were suggesting, which I think is traditionally the way that we’ve operated.


It sounds like a great program. One country that’s in East Asia that is a leader economically, but doesn’t have opportunities politically to be able to really take a leadership role is Taiwan. We’ve seen a lot change in just the past year, maybe two years, in terms of Chinese aggression, in terms of questions about how committed the United States is. Whether it’s much more committed than previously thought and whether it’s going to defend it the way that it’s tried to support Ukraine. Is Taiwan under immediate threat from China right now or is it something that’s still more of a long-term threat?

Elizabeth Economy

I think Taiwan is under threat from China all the time. It’s really a question of the degree of threat. It’s under threat politically. We know that it tries to intervene and meddle in Taiwanese elections. It’s under threat economically. When President Tsai was first elected and refused to sign the ‘92 consensus, we saw that China all of a sudden pulled back its tourists, pulled back its students, and has tried to isolate Taiwan. We saw during Covid that it wouldn’t allow Taiwan to participate in the deliberations and discussions of the World Health Assembly. I mean, to me, what could be a greater threat than trying to keep this island nation out of discussions for a global pandemic that was ravaging the world.

So, I think Taiwan is always under threat, but I know what you’re asking is really about the military threat. I think in terms of that Xi Jinping… Here again is another area of those big debates within the field. You know, is Xi Jinping any different from previous leaders? He has said that reunification with Taiwan is one of his 14 must do items. I take him very seriously. So, whether he has five years or he has 10 years, I think unless something changes dramatically in Taiwan in a way that makes the people of Taiwan believe that it would be in their self-interest to unify with the mainland as the mainland looks today, I think the likelihood of PRC military action when Xi Jinping believes that it will be successful is extremely high.

So, Taiwan sits under a gigantic rain cloud that at any time lightning could strike down. I don’t think we should be naive about Xi Jinping’s intentions and the threat of military action from Beijing.


So, just in the past few weeks, we’ve seen widespread protests within China over zero covid, but also over a range of different issues. From an international perspective, how will the recent protests shape how other countries look at China?

Elizabeth Economy

You know, I think that very much depends on the mindset. I think the understanding of people broadly about China and by that, I mean some people understand that simply because you don’t see dissent, it still exists. It’s not as though China had 180,000 protests in 2010 documented by a professor in Beijing and then a decade later or a little bit more than a decade later has no dissent. As if nobody’s unhappy with what’s going on. It’s simply that Xi Jinping’s coercive apparatus and the constraints in terms of the free flow of information have made it far more dangerous for people and far more difficult for people to express that.

I think some people in governments around the world, including in our own, don’t necessarily see the importance of a range of views within China whether we’re talking at the societal level or within the Chinese government, which I personally also believe that those differences of opinion exist there too. So, for them, I don’t think that the protests are that meaningful in many respects. I don’t think they change the way that people like that think we ought to approach China. I think if you do think that there are differences of opinion, this is not it, that China doesn’t have one long-term strategic game in mind that will never change. That the only thing that we can expect from China is sort of the trajectory that it’s currently on. I think that leads you to one set of policy prescriptions.

But if you think that China can change and that Xi Jinping is not inevitable and Xi Jinping two and three and four and five are not inevitable, then I think that leads you to a slightly different set of policy recommendations. A set that’s probably more open to discussion to ensuring that we continue to engage with China, find areas of common ground, and actually work on something like climate change or health security or other global challenges. So, I think that’s how the protests will affect people. For some people in many respects, it will reinforce what people already have believed about China. Again, do you see China as a place with differences of opinion that actually matter or do you see China as this sort of monolith that is on one path and that path really hasn’t changed since Mao Zedong?


So, many look at the protests as a symbol of failure on the part of Xi Jinping. Not necessarily because there are protests, but because of some of his other policies like zero covid and some of the repressive stances that he’s taken. Your previous book before the World According to China was The Third Revolution. Has the hype of the idea of a third revolution, has that really lived up to itself? Has his time and power really been that transformative? And even according to his own terms as a leader, has it actually been a success according to what he wanted to accomplish?

Elizabeth Economy

So, you probably should ask somebody else that question. Clearly, I think he has been transformative and I think if you were to talk to the Chinese people, if you were to talk certainly to Chinese scholars, Chinese entrepreneurs, there’s no way in which his rule has not been transformative. Again, I would point back to when he first took power and you had 180,000 protests. You had an internet that was so vibrant with people calling for environmental action, people calling for political reform. You had this incredibly dynamic private sector and clearly what we’ve seen over the past 10 years on the home front is just this really extraordinary intrusion of the Communist Party and the state into people’s everyday lives and into the economy.,

Look at the number of billionaires who have in the past two years retired or stepped back from their positions even though they’re like 30 or 40 years old, because they recognize that life is just too difficult under Xi Jinping. His foreign policies are far more ambitious than what we saw under Hu Jintao. The reach of the Belt and Road Initiative is extraordinary in many respects. So, I don’t understand how anybody could say that he hasn’t been transformative? Again, I would just offer you the opportunity to ask the Chinese people whether they feel as though their lives have been transformed in some meaningful way under Xi Jinping.

I think you would find that many, many have. I mean, I’ll give you one other statistic that was not in that book. If you look at what’s happened to the role of women in China, the World Economic Forum does a ranking of countries and women’s access to the health, educational, political system, and the economy and China has fallen from 69th in 2012 when Xi came into power to 113th out of 140 countries in 2021. Then you look at the makeup of the top leadership in China where there’s now for the first time in decades, not a single woman among the top 24 leaders of the Politburo and standing committee and only 4% of the top 200 or 220 central committee members.

So, to me, that also is transformative and outrageous given that China is the second largest economy in the world that this is what has happened to the role of women in this country.


So, before we go, your book was published a few months ago. I’m sure that you finished writing it quite a while before that. A lot has happened in China since you finished writing your book. What’s something that has really surprised you or caught you off guard that’s happened lately that’s maybe challenged your ideas or given you a different perspective on what’s happening in China?

Elizabeth Economy

Well, first of all, the book is going to be updated and come out in a new edition this summer, so wait for that. But I guess I would say I have in the book the idea that Xi Jinping is sowing the seeds of his own failure because you look at things like the Confucius Institutes and you find that they wanted to have a thousand by 2020. Instead, they have 540 globally. These are these educational institutions designed to promote Chinese language and culture, but the way that Xi Jining does business undermines what could otherwise be a very good idea. That’s something that I talk about across the Belt and Road and other initiatives that they haven’t had quite the impact that Xi Jinping might have desired because of the way that China does business.

The argument I make is that what China’s able to do at home in terms of coercing and controlling its own people, it then tries to do on the global stage, but to much less effect. I think if there’s one thing that surprised me is the extent to which what was a great Covid story has become such a bad Covid story for China and for Xi Jinping personally as a leader and the extent to which the international community has kind of coalesce over the past two years really to try to shape China’s strategic environment in a much more aggressive way than I might have anticipated in that sort of interim President Trump to President Biden period.

President Biden moved out very aggressively and successfully to build coalitions with allies and partners. I think there are two things that surprise me. That’s the fast fall of China and the greater ability of the international system to push back more quickly than I would’ve anticipated. It’s something I recommend in the book, but they just moved out a lot faster than I would’ve anticipated.

Let me just finish by saying you never say never. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in decades of studying China, and frankly even before that the Soviet Union as the Gorbachev analyst is there is an endless ability of countries and their leaders to surprise. So, I hate making predictions and I’m going to forestall you asking me for a prediction now because I think you never know what might be just around the corner.


Well, no need for predictions. Thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you for writing the book, The World According to China, and thanks for joining me for this conversation.

Elizabeth Economy

My pleasure, Justin.

Key Links

The World According to China by Elizabeth C. Economy

Dissent is Not Dead” by Elizabeth C. Economy in the Journal of Democracy

Learn more about Elizabeth C. Economy at the Hoover Institute

Democracy Paradox Podcast

Sarah Cook on China’s Expanding Global Media Influence

Aynne Kokas on the Intersection Between Surveillance Capitalism and Chinese Sharp Power (or How Much Does the CCP Already Know About You?)

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