The panelists for "Panel I: China" were also members of CSI: Jude Blanchette, Freeman Chair in China Studies; Scott Kennedy Senior Adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics; Bonny Lin Director, China Power Project and Senior Fellow, Asian Security; and Lily McElwee Fellow, Freeman Chair in China Studies and CSIS-Chumir Global Dialogue.
Szechenyi opened the panel by inviting the audience to participate in the discussion, informing audience members that they would be presented with a series of polls that they could answer either online or through texting. The first question asked what China President Xi Jinping's greatest political challenge in 2023 will be. Sixty-two percent of respondents said the economy, 29% said COVID-19, 6% said U.S.-China relations and 3% said Taiwan.
"Broadly, I would agree with the audience," said Kennedy. "I think they've got it right, but ... the overarching challenge for Xi Jinping is his governance credibility. It's taken a huge hit, just at the time when he was entering his third term. If he was running an election campaign last year, and people were voting, the outcome would not have been the same. Luckily, he's in a political system that doesn't require popular support to get a new term."
Kennedy also noted that China is still waging a massive war against COVID-19 within the country and that the government cannot properly function until it has safely exited the pandemic, something that it's yet to do. Multiple governments and medical bodies have attempted to provide China with appropriate medical supplies and advice, which the country has mostly rejected, leading to what Kennedy called an "I told you so" moment.
The second poll question asked what the probability of China using military force against Taiwan in 2023 was. Eighty percent of respondents said the likelihood of Chinese military aggression was under 20%, 13% of respondents said 40%, 4% of respondents said 60%, and an additional 4% of respondents said 80%.
Lin was surprised by the result, noting that, in 2022, the percentage of respondents that answered "under 20%" was slightly lower, suggesting that confidence in China avoiding military action had grown.
"From my perspective, the key to answering this question is how people actually understood the question," Lin said. "Are folks interpreting [the question] to be large-scale use of force such as a blockade or an invasion, or is that everyday use of force, for example, the routine flights that China conducts into Taiwan's [airspace]? Because if you view that question as more the routine force, you would probably be over 80%, but if you view this question as large-scale force, which I think is how people interpret it, that would be where you're under 20%."
The panel ended with audience members being allowed to directly ask the panelists questions regarding developments in and involving China in 2023.