Xi Jinping, China's president, during the unveiling of the Communist Party of China's new Politburo Standing Committee at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. President Xi Jinping stacked China's most powerful body with his allies, giving him unfettered control over the world's second-largest economy. Source: Bloomberg

Every year on December 31st a glimpse of an impenetrable world is revealed. On Chinese state television, Xi Jinping delivers his New Year address to the nation (pictured). China’s netizens pore over the footage. On no other occasion do they get to see their leader sitting at what purports to be his desk. They swap analysis of Mr Xi’s collection of photographs, displayed on bookshelves behind him. And they parse his ponderously delivered words. “Along the way, we are bound to encounter headwinds,” he said this year. Many will see that as an understatement of China’s woes.

Just over a year ago, Mr Xi abandoned his strict “zero-covid” measures, which had been in force for nearly three years and had led to ever more frequent lockdowns. But the country did not experience what Mr Xi described in his speech as a “smooth transition”. China’s under-vaccinated population was ill-prepared: according to some estimates, well over 1m people died of the disease as the country staggered back to normality (officials covered up the actual death toll). The economy failed to gather momentum. Youth unemployment soared, the property market continued to slump and foreign investors grew more nervous. The headwinds were fierce. The coming year looks hardly less troubled.

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