Continuing to browse our website indicates your consent to our use of cookies. For more information, see our Privacy policy.

US-China trade

Analysis: Xi, not Trump, started on path to decoupling

Published 02 May 2023

Xi Jinping’s desire to be independent of American influence has been consistent for 11 years, setting in train China’s initiation of decoupling policies that drove China’s military-civilian fusion, “dual circulation”, tech crackdown, and the deepening of the US-China rift, veteran Japanese journalist Katsuji Nakazawa writes.

This essay was first published in Nikkei Asia on April 20, 2023.

When did supply-chain disruptions begin?

Some might feel it all started with the export restrictions the U.S. slapped on China, be it for anger over unfair practices or over fear of a rising military rival. Many in China believe the root cause of U.S.-China decoupling lies in former U.S. President Donald Trump's stances.

But Trump's policies were only one dimension of a much longer development. Since 11 years ago, a movement to decouple from America was happening in China.

"It was Xi Jinping who made the first crucial statement that led to the separation of the U.S. and Chinese economies," said a retired party veteran, noting this happened just before he ascended to the Chinese Communist Party's top leader.

The fact that Xi has stayed true to his original instincts shows that he is a strong-willed politician who follows through on his original intentions. Whether that is a good thing or not for the Chinese economy, is another debate.

It all started around the party's 18th national congress, held in November 2012. For context, the national congress was delayed significantly due to the political turmoil over former top Chongqing official Bo Xilai.

During the quinquennial event, Xi, the leader in waiting, raised concern that the Chinese economy was being "hijacked" by the U.S. As leader, he was determined to correct the situation.

Xi's statements were behind closed doors and not publicized. But with 3,000 delegates attending the national congress, it had many people talking about it.

At the time, however, people in China did not realize that Xi's intentions would have massive consequences for China's economy and society later on.

Xi believed that the Western-oriented economic structure Deng Xiaoping installed – and his proteges worshipped – led to corruption, worship of money and blind admiration of Western systems within the party and military.

The attempt to terminate the hijacking led to a drastic reversal of Deng's policies. It was no longer going to be about cooperation and closer economic relations with the U.S.

So began China’s path to decoupling, veteran Japanese journalist Katsuji Nakazawa wrote in an analysis for Nikkei Asia, setting out the seeds of a Chinese campaign that set in train “military-civilian fusion”, Chinese self-reliance, “dual circulation”, Beijing’s crackdown on China’s high-flying tech sector, and the supremacy of “the Party's political logic over any logic of economic freedom,” Nakazawa writes.

Download the full article here.

© The Hinrich Foundation. See our website Terms and conditions for our copyright and reprint policy. All statements of fact and the views, conclusions and recommendations expressed in this publication are the sole responsibility of the author(s).

Katsuji Nakazawa is a Tokyo-based senior staff and editorial writer at Nikkei. He spent seven years in China as a correspondent and later as China bureau chief. He was the 2014 recipient of the Vaughn-Ueda International Journalist prize.

Articles by this expert

View bio

Have any feedback on this article?

contact us