Iain Mills is an independent China analyst and regular contributor to World Politics Review and Investments and Pensions Asia. He has been published in Asia Times, Global Times and Shanghai Business Review. He is a contributing analyst at Wikistrat and consults for several private sector firms on China strategy and investment. He specializes in Chinese energy and commodity markets, financial market development, political evolution and rise in Asia. Iain has an MA in Modern and Medieval Languages from the University of Cambridge and currently splits his time between London and Beijing.
Articles written by Iain Mills
Since China embarked on a credit-fueled stimulus package during the global financial crisis, the rapid buildup in the country’s aggregate debt has become a source of concern. Though the stimulus was successful at the time, it is increasingly viewed as ill-judged, and Beijing now finds itself balancing between managing debt risks and maintaining adequate economic growth as it seeks to increase capital discipline. more
The Chinese Communist Party’s Third Plenum culminated last month with the release of a reform-minded document outlining significant changes in 60 key areas of the Chinese economy. Coupled with recent events in the political sphere, the agenda represents the emergence of President Xi Jinping as a leader and the benchmarks by which he will be judged between now and the plenum’s key target date of 2020. more
The Chinese government has long recognized the need for reforms, but it has often struggled to implement many changes. Beijing’s list of promised reforms is considerable, but the pace of change has continually disappointed. In recent months, a new wave of frustration has emerged due to apparent inaction from the new administration amid fading hopes of moving toward constitutionalism and genuine marketization. more
China's rapid economic growth, which has transformed the world's most populous country and reshaped the international economic and geopolitical landscape, is now slowing. While many observers are nervous about the slowdown’s implications, a more balanced and less resource-intensive model of economic expansion may bring more sustainability to China's development story and alter its international relations. more
As U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, begin a three-day informal summit, commentators are hoping that a personal rapport between the two leaders might have significant effects on broader bilateral relations. But a major strategic shift is dependent on the two sides overcoming persistent disagreements and managing domestic pressures that limit the scope for a bold new departure. more
China's recent incursion into Indian territory along their disputed border in eastern Kashmir brings to the fore the unpredictability of Chinese foreign policy implementation and Beijing's frequent recourse to low-level aggression. Despite a general trend toward deepening cooperation between China and India, the incident lowers hopes that China's new leadership will clear up uncertainty in bilateral relations. more
While China's new leadership seems likely to continue with domestic policy reforms, in the foreign policy sphere, initial signals have been less encouraging. The external challenges facing officials in Beijing involve assuaging the concerns of a far greater range of constituents than on domestic issues. Here the evidence suggests that China's foreign policy is becoming more aggressive and overtly nationalistic. more
Despite the sense of disappointment surrounding China's leadership transition since the November party congress, policy formulation has moved ahead, even as incoming President Xi Jinping actively forges his public persona. Along with a more detailed picture of elite politics during the run-up to the handover, clearer signals about the new leadership’s domestic policy priorities are gradually emerging. more
After much fanfare and stagecraft, China's leadership transition ultimately ended with a distinct sense of anticlimax. The seven men who will rule China are, as reported by the South China Morning Post two weeks before the official announcement, largely older, conservative cadres. This is a group unlikely to implement the kind of reforms to China's politics, economy and society that many had hoped for. more
Following considerable speculation that it would be postponed or even cancelled, the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will convene in Beijing on Nov. 8. Although key issues and personnel appointments remain unsettled, the announcement of the November congress coincides with other signals that what has appeared at times to be gridlock at the upper political echelons is easing. more
Recent years have seen a significant increase in both labor disputes and regulatory burden in the resources sector across the world. The ongoing mining sector unrest in South Africa suggests that these pressures continue to mount and that previous policy responses may prove insufficient. Moreover, the sector could be entering a more contentious phase characterized by a higher incidence of resource nationalism. more
Few countries have benefited more from China’s rise and the global commodities boom than Australia, whose newfound wealth and resource endowments have driven an increase in its strategic significance within the Asia-Pacific. But with China's commodities demand fluctuating, concerns are rising that Australia might be facing an economic bust that could curtail the country's integration with Asia. more
For China, diversification away from the dollar is a strategic priority. Nowhere is this shift more strategically significant than in commodities markets, where Beijing is building out the infrastructure required to establish the RMB as the dominant currency for commodities in Asia. more
Following a period of relatively aggressive behavior from 2009 to 2011, recent events suggest that Beijing is pursuing a new strategy on the region's high seas, perhaps in response to Washington’s Asia pivot. Going into this week's ASEAN summit, where hopes for a maritime code of conduct are rising, it seems China would need to radically alter this strategy to participate fully in any such arrangement. more
China’s fifth-generation leadership will assume office later this year at a critical juncture in the country’s socio-economic development and against a backdrop of weak global economic growth and growing geopolitical uncertainty. Though China’s rise continued has been a feature of geopolitical forecasting in recent years, the potential for a less-rosy scenario cannot be excluded.
As China approaches its once-a-decade senior leadership transition, structural weaknesses in the country’s economic model are becoming more apparent, even as the momentum for progressive reforms appears to be increasing. A best-case scenario for the fifth-generation leadership assumes a continuation of both trends, leading to reinvigoration of the Chinese economy and accelerated social development.
While China's much-hyped clean energy drive has become bogged down, the U.S. has quietly effected a genuine energy revolution that creates huge cost advantages for America’s manufacturing base going forward. The changing international energy market dynamics present Washington with an opportunity to fundamentally reorient its foreign policy approach toward a broad range of actors in the decades to come. more
Senior leaders from China, Japan and South Korea met in Beijing last weekend, where they agreed to work toward establishing a free-trade zone, the latest in a flurry of trilateral economic deals in recent months. But despite these developments, the geopolitical situation in Northeast Asia remains fragmented, and a multilateral architecture capable of containing latent regional threats is some way off. more
As China prepares for a once-in-a-decade change of leadership, the ouster of Bo Xilai and a series of significant financial reforms have been widely seen as signs that reformist elements in Beijing are in the ascendency. This analysis may be correct, but it needs to be tempered with a broader look at the Chinese political and policy landscape, which shows that reforms still lag in multiple key areas. more
A lack of institutionalization means that Chinese policy approaches are often fragmented and factionalized, both in terms of ideological formulation and implementation. Today, China's polity seems at a crossroads, no longer wedded to the heavily centralized, introverted strategic planning structures of the socialist years, but as yet unable to articulate responses to the dynamic transnational threats it faces in the 21st century. more