Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

What a year for China in 2012 -- what about next year?

By Kristie Lu Stout, CNN
updated 10:35 PM EST, Thu December 13, 2012
China fired its first woman into orbit in 2012, could a Chinese astronaut set foot on the moon in 2013? China fired its first woman into orbit in 2012, could a Chinese astronaut set foot on the moon in 2013?
Walking on the moon
Anti-corruption crusade
U.S.-China relations
Islands no paradise
China better connected
  • U.S. wary of China's military, economic growth, while China is wary of America's pivot to Asia
  • China will also be considering its own often fractious relationships in its backyard
  • Corruption will also be a key issue for the new Chinese leadership in 2013
  • Space exploration will continue as a symbolic marker for China's development

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Attempting to forecast future events is a dangerous pastime.

Who could have predicted the spectacular fall of Chinese politician Bo Xilai, once a rising political star, or the stunning escape of blind activist Chen Guangcheng from house arrest?

But forecasting is useful for journalists who should be primed to anticipate the dominant trends ahead.

So, adding to what's already out there, here goes. These are the five key China stories I'll be looking out for in 2013:

US-China tensions

The U.S. is wary of China's military growth and economic might, while China is wary of America's pivot to Asia and President Barack Obama's increasingly tough line on trade.

Japan scrambles fighter jets
China angers neighbors with passport map
China indecisive on North Korea
Xi: Party must tackle corruption
What does space mission mean for China?

Read: U.S. and China: Worlds apart but much in common

But in 2013, there will be more immediate points of friction between the two giants.

Xie Tao, a professor of Political Science at Beijing Foreign Studies University, underlines three specific trends to watch: "Number one, whether Barack Obama will sell weapons to Taiwan in January; second, whether China will continue to block U.S. efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria; and number three, Iran."

Tao adds: "I'm not quite optimistic about peaceful cooperation between the two countries, but in the longer term, I'm more optimistic than many other scholars of the U.S.-China relationship."

China's Own Pivot to Asia

As the U.S. makes its strategic pivot to Asia, China has been considering its own relationships in its backyard. Beijing is out to ink trade deals with Japan and South Korea while actively expanding trade ties with Southeast Asian countries like Laos and Myanmar.

The New York Times' Beijing-based Chief Diplomatic Correspondent Jane Perlez tells me: "China is a cash power in Southeast Asia. They're spending billions of dollars on roads and rail through the countries of Southeast Asia, that will enable goods to come up through China, then back down through China, and will knit the whole region together."

But given the ongoing tension with South Korea, Philippines and Japan over disputed islands in the South China Sea, as well as tension within Myanmar over China's mineral mining operations, will Beijing lose the diplomatic war for hearts and minds in the region?

Read: Disputed islands -- who claims what?

The Party's Priority: Cleaning up corruption

The Chinese Communist Party is facing a number of challenges that are undercutting its legitimacy: A widening rich-poor divide, a desperate need for social reforms, political corruption, and a spate of sex scandals involving Party officials. As such, the Communist Party must make cleaning up its own domestic affairs a top priority.

Political commentator and columnist Frank Ching believes the new leadership's top agenda is cleaning up the Party itself, adding this observation from the recent 18th Party Congress in Beijing: "When Xi Jinping came out to introduce members of the Standing Committee, he did not mention foreign policy at all. He didn't say anything about international relations. I think that's because he realizes China's most serious problems are domestic ones, and he's going to have to focus on those first."

China's Smartphone Boom

China, the world's biggest Internet market, is forecast to overtake the U.S. in smartphone shipments and become the world's leading smartphone market this year, according to research group IDC.

With some retailing for as low as $160, China's cheap smartphones will make a huge social impact through China. According to Josh Ong, China Editor of The Next Web: "It's becoming more and more possible for Chinese consumers to skip bulky desktops or even laptops and netbooks and rely solely on their phones as their primary computing devices. Students, migrant workers, and even rural citizens stand to benefit greatly from the rise of affordable smartphones."

As more Chinese venture online (and on microblogs) via their smartphones, there will be greater public outcry and protest, as well as greater pressure on the government to manage the added censorship load.

"We have seen the beginnings of a digital accountability system. If nearly everyone has the means to record and instantaneously broadcast their surroundings, it will keep most people from acting out," says Ong.

China to the Moon

In the second half of 2013, China's Chang-e III is expected to land on the moon. Once the lunar rover touches down on the lunar surface, expect a massive wave of propaganda touting its scientific might.

China is still on a high after setting a deep-sea diving record in the Mariana Trench and successfully docking the Shenzhou-9 with the Tiangong 1 space lab in the same week earlier this year. But China on the moon will do far more than stir national pride. It will cement China's own age of discovery for the world to admire and, in certain corners of the globe, fear.

Read: China's giant, quiet step in space

Chinese explorer Wong How Man says the message of China's space program is clear and highly symbolic. "We're in space... not just making cellphones."

Part of complete coverage on
2012: Year in review
Mauritania's endless sea of sand dunes hides an open secret: An estimated 10% to 20% of the population lives in slavery. CNN investigates.
updated 5:38 AM EDT, Wed October 10, 2012
CNN's Arwa Damon reports that the State Department says that the Benghazi attack was not a spontaneous result of protest.
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
CNN's Arwa Damon shares the first video from inside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
updated 9:26 PM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
CNN's Arwa Damon reports from Benghazi, Libya, sharing first hand details with anchor Wolf Blitzer
updated 1:30 AM EST, Fri November 16, 2012
In November, China unveiled the elite group of leaders who will set the agenda for the country for the next decade.
updated 12:30 PM EST, Wed December 5, 2012
It wasn't all about the Olympics this year: Catch up skiing, motorsport, football, dog racing and more from the world of sport.
updated 4:52 AM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
Re-elected president Barack Obama tells supporters "the best is yet to come" in his victory address in Chicago. Watch the full length video.
updated 1:47 PM EDT, Tue October 9, 2012
Friends of 14-year-old activist Malala Yousufzai describe how gunmen asked them to identify her before they opened fire.
updated 9:29 PM EDT, Thu August 16, 2012
Rising tensions at a South African platinum mine exploded into grisly violence as police opened fire on striking miners.
Highlights from the dramatic opening ceremony of the London 2102 Olympic Games directed by British filmmaker Danny Boyle.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Tue June 5, 2012
Diamond Jubilee celebrations reached a colorful climax in June as the queen appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
updated 3:58 PM EST, Fri January 6, 2012
CNN's Nima Elbagir reports on the deteriorating situation in Nigeria amid attacks by Boko Haram.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Fri July 20, 2012
A senior economist at the institution spearheading the bailouts of three eurozone countries has lambasted its lack of leadership.
updated 12:58 AM EDT, Fri May 25, 2012
Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng tells CNN about his departure from China and his continuing concern for those he left behind.
updated 2:58 PM EDT, Sat June 9, 2012
Angela Merkel said a core group of states needed to press on with European integration to fight the eurozone crisis.
updated 11:53 AM EST, Wed November 16, 2011
FIFA President Sepp Blatter talks to CNN's Pedro Pinto about FIFA reforms and whether racism in football is a problem.
updated 8:22 PM EDT, Mon August 27, 2012
Opinion: Neil Armstrong passes away, aged 82. He's the hero who always shied away from the spoils and trappings of heroism itself.
updated 7:19 PM EST, Wed November 21, 2012
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh gained access to Aleppo to reveal the destructive attacks by the Assad regime and its effects on the residents caught in the middle.
updated 6:41 PM EST, Fri March 9, 2012
CNN's tough choices made to keep their journalists safe and their account of reporting and surviving a trip into Homs.
iReporters share the stories of their search to rebuild their lives since the tsunami. They report finding inner strength in the face of their fears.
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Tue October 16, 2012
CNN's Nic Robertson reports on Arab League monitors attacked from both sides in the uprising in Syria.