Fortified but not enriched

China is trying to protect its economy from Western pressure

The results are mixed

In a message to Chinese aerospace engineers and researchers for “Youth Day” earlier last month, President Xi Jinping shared his ambitions for the industry. Young workers should advance the cause of Chinese self-reliance, he said, following in the footsteps of their predecessors who developed a home-grown nuclear weapon, missile and satellite, with little help from outsiders, in a campaign in the era of Mao Zedong called “Two bombs, one satellite”.

On the face of things, this is an odd message to trumpet in the country that has benefited more than any other from the most recent wave of globalisation. In 2000 China was the biggest merchandise trading partner of only a tiny number of countries. Now it is the biggest partner of more than 60. Between 1985 and 2015 Chinese exports of goods to America rose by a factor of 125. Partly as a result of the associated manufacturing boom, growth in China’s GDP per person averaged more than 8% a year from 2001 to 2020.

But the Chinese government has never been completely comfortable with globalisation, whatever the benefits. The process of “reform and opening up” started by Deng Xiaoping in…