2010, the Chinese year of the tiger, may be a difficult year for both the literal and metaphorical big cat. While wild tiger numbers have fallen to 3,200, China faces a year of possible difficulties. The fear of rampant inflation, continued conflict over Tibet and other areas of China’s relations with the wider world, and an increase in protectionism could all combine to trip up the Chinese behemoth.

The stimulus package of 2008, widely reported to have been in the area of $586 billion dollars, combined with China’s continued thirst for raw materials seems to have ensured the Chinese economy has continued to grow at a pace that fuels the global recovery from recession. However there is a danger of the economy overheating, with inflation rising towards 4% and beyond. Inflation at this level will mean consumer spending decreases, damaging future growth levels. To combat this threat Beijing will look to raise interest rates – but this too will threaten spending. Whether inflation increases or whether interest rates rise, the danger is that the economy will slow down, with a domino effect of slowing down the global economy – and severely damaging any recovery from recession the West may be looking forward to.

Combined with this threat of inflation, China’s export driven economy may struggle to deal with protectionist moves in the West. The USA has already introduced tariffs on Chinese tires, but this may only be the start of a more protectionist America as President Obama looks to kick-start American industry and boost employment rates to save his flagging Presidency. Any lapse towards this closed global economy will not help China continue its rapid growth as it depends so much on manufacturing exports. It has recently been confirmed that China overtook Germany as the world’s biggest exporter.

On an international level, China will see its battles of 2009 continue into 2010. The climate change negotiations of Copenhagen saw the USA and China fight it out over what role the international community should play in national efforts to reduce carbon emissions and 2010 will not be any different. Iran will continue to be a thorn in East-West relations as the EU and US continue to demand the right to oversee Iranian nuclear enrichment. But what may be most difficult is the continuing spats between the USA and China over China’s regional relations. Taiwan and Tibet both represent issues that cause problems within the UN Security Council. The recent Chinese threat concerning the Dalai Lama’s visit to America is but one illustration of the tensions between the countries.

Individually this possible problems for the year of the tiger may not represent major challenges to the world’s emerging superpower but a combination may yet present hiccups to the Chinese  march towards hegemony. Tigers may not have it all their own way yet.