When Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he unveiled a sweeping vision for the “great rejuvenation” of the country — a "dream” that would make China powerful and prosperous.
Ten years later, Xi has transformed China. He has consolidated the country as a force on the world stage, with an expansive economic footprint, a modernizing military and rising technological prowess.
But China has also become an increasingly restrictive place for its citizens, with swift suppression of dissent, pervasive surveillance and mounting social controls, which have only grown more pronounced under Xi’s costly and isolating zero-Covid policy.
With the Chinese Communist Party in the midst of its five-yearly leadership reshuffle, CNN looks back at a decade of dramatic change for China that has set the stage for the country’s next chapter, as Xi — its most powerful leader in decades — steps into an expected norm-breaking third term.
Credits (from top right): Ng Han Guan/AP, Kevin Frayer/Getty Images, Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images, Ng Han Guan/AP, Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images.
Credits (clockwise from top left): Ng Han Guan/AP, Kevin Frayer/Getty Images, Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images, Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images, Ng Han Guan/AP.
Xi has also built a cult of personality around himself as the “core” of the party and strengthened its role in all aspects of life.
Belt and Road Initiative
Chinese entities have poured what US-based research lab AidData estimates to be an average $85 billion annually into financing infrastructure from Southeast Asia to Latin America under Xi's flagship project — despite criticisms of risky lending.
Credit: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images
Beijing has grown assertive in its territorial claims — militarizing islands in the South China Sea, clashing with India at a disputed Himalayan border, stoking tensions with Japan over uninhabited islands and ramping up rhetoric on its claim to Taiwan.
Beijing has favored a new kind of diplomat: combative, assertive and ready to lash out, whether in the United Nations or on social media, to defend Xi's policies.
Credit: Kydpl Kyodo/AP
Xi has pledged that China, a top greenhouse gas emitter, will go carbon neutral by 2060 and stop building coal plants overseas — though transparency remains limited.
Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
Closer to Russia
Beijing and Moscow have tightened their “strategic partnership” in recent years, drawn closer over respective tensions with the West and the personal rapport between Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Credit: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
American perceptions of China have declined
How Americans view China
Values for 2021 and 2022 are surveys the Pew Research Center conducted online. Values for 2020 and earlier represent surveys conducted over the phone.
Source: Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Survey
Credits (from top to bottom): Kevin Frayer/Getty Images, Li Tang/VCG/Getty Images, Li Bingyu/Xinhua/AP.
China has built the world’s largest navy
According to comparative estimates by the US Office of Naval Intelligence in 2020, China was on track to have 63 more battle-force ships than the US.
Data for China (2020) are estimates. Figures for China are for end of calendar year, figures for US are for end of fiscal year.
Source: Congressional Research Service
Pressure on Taiwan
Xi has also stressed a national goal of “reunifying” with Taiwan — by force, if necessary. China’s military has ramped up its intimidation of the self-governing democracy, which has never been ruled by the Communist Party, at times sending dozens of warplanes a day close to the island.
China's economic growth has slowed
China's GDP growth is expected to drop to 2.8% in 2022, just above the 2.2% recorded during the first year of the pandemic in 2020.
Annual GDP growth
2022 figure is estimated.
Source: World Bank
rural residents no longer living below China's standard of "absolute poverty" since 2012.
internet users in China as of June 2022, up from 564 million in 2012.
kilometers (about 20,000 miles) added to China's high-speed rail network since late 2012.
estimated loss in market value for Chinese companies worldwide at the height of China's 2021 crackdown on private enterprise.
Source: China’s State Council Information Office, China Internet Network Information Center, Xinhua news agency, and Goldman Sachs
An estimated more than 1 million Uyghur and other minorities have been interned in detention facilities, according to rights groups, where there are reports of torture and sexual abuse. China said it dismantled what were “education and training” centers, but researchers say some detainees were transferred to prisons.
Credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters
A far-reaching system of video surveillance, police checkpoints, biometric data collection and digital monitoring in Xinjiang, all cited in the UN report, is believed to have enabled local authorities to track and target Muslim minorities.
Credit: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
Authorities have repressed Uyghur and other ethnic groups’ cultural identity, including by restricting religious practice, rights groups say. Researchers have also documented the destruction of religious sites, such as mosques and cemeteries.
Credit: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
Mass detentions and other controls restricting movement into and out of the region have resulted in painful, years-long family separations. There have also been reports of forced sterilization and birth control.
Credit: Guillaume Payen/Sopa Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
A looming population crisis
Births per 1,000 people
Source: The National Bureau of Statistics of China
Credits (from top to bottom): Nicolas/Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images, Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images, Nicolas/Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images.
Beijing responded by backing a broad crackdown, including through the introduction of a national security law in 2020 that critics say has been used to crush the city’s opposition movement, overhaul its electoral system, silence its outspoken media and cripple its once-vibrant civil society.
people have been arrested under the national security law. As of June, 124 individuals and 5 companies have been prosecuted.
people have been arrested for their involvement in the 2019 protests, among whom 2,804 have been prosecuted.
Source: Hong Kong’s Security Bureau
An estimated 770 million surveillance cameras were installed worldwide in 2019. More than half of those were expected to be in China
Cameras installed worldwide in 2019
Source: IHS Markit
Credits (from top to bottom): Stringer/Getty Images, Tian Yuhao/China News Service/Getty Images, Kevin Frayer/Getty Images.
The policy, lauded by Xi, has also radically changed how China interacts with the rest of the world. Border restrictions have shut out international students and business travelers who once flocked to China, while overseas trips by mainland Chinese tourists have all but dried up.
Today’s China is more isolated and nationalistic than it’s been in decades, even as its economy falters — posing significant challenges for the country as Xi appears poised to drive his agenda forward into a third term.