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Dec 23, 2015

The December China-Africa leaders summit in Johannesburg marked the end of what was a very busy year for Chinese president Xi Jinping and his foreign policy team. In many ways, 2015 marked a significant turning point in China's increasingly ambitious global agenda as Beijing deepened its engagement in global institutions while it simultaneously seeks to influence the international order more in its favor.

In Africa, China played a critical role in the battle against Ebola, conducted its first overseas deployment of combat troops to South Sudan, signed a lease for its first overseas military installation in Djibouti, pushed for an expanded use of its currency on the continent in countries like Nigeria and Zimbabwe and unveiled a massive $60 billion financial package for Africa at the FOCAC summit in Johannesburg. Africa, though, is a bright spot in China's otherwise tense and complicated international relations.

In Asia, China's territorial claims to vast parts of the disputed South China Sea has further riled its neighbors and prompted a potentially dangerous military stand-off with the United States. While tensions with the US rose significantly this past year over issues ranging from cyber attacks to trade, there were also a number of bright spots in Sino-US relations. The two countries appeared to make significant progress in climate talks and global finance when the yuan was added to the IMF's basket of major currencies. The murder of a Chinese national at the hands of ISIS followed by an al-Qaeda attack at a hotel in Mali pushed terrorism to the top of China's foreign policy agenda in late 2015. While the US and China have radically divergent strategies on how to combat terrorism, China recognizes that it will have to cooperate with the US and Europe on security issues in the Middle East and North Africa given Beijing's reliance on imported oil from the region. All of this took place in a year when the Chinese economy began to sputter as the bubble on the Shanghai stock exchanged finally popped, industrial output slowed dramatically and a flood of money poured out of the country. Additionally, the US Federal Reserve's December rate hike also prompted the Chinese yuan to devalue, adding more pressure on China's trading partners in Africa and beyond who are already overwhelmed by low-cost Chinese imports.

It was a busy year indeed.

Every week, longtime China-watcher Bill Bishop tries to make sense of it all as the editor of the popular Sinocism email newsletter. Bishop spent a decade in Beijing observing, consulting and writing about Chinese politics. Earlier this year, he moved to Washington, D.C. where he joined Eric & Cobus to share his outlook for the year ahead in Chinese international relations.