In stark contrast to the fanfare that marked the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic on Oct. 1, China is wading into troubled waters as we enter 2020. The surest sign is the fact that Chinese Communist Party leaders spare no efforts in cautioning the public about challenges ahead and pliant Chinese media outlets have been quick to spread the word: buckle up for turbulence.

There's nothing ambiguous in Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's warning that the country "may encounter larger downward pressure and a more complex situation," so "governments at all levels will face more difficult tasks and bigger responsibilities."

Chinese President Xi Jinping himself identifies "three tough battles" ahead: targeted poverty reduction, effective control of financial risks, and general improvement in the environment. There is an undisguised sense of urgency in his message: "We need to be prepared with contingency plans." Jack Ma, Alibaba's founder, weighs in to confirm that "the hardship of 2019 is probably just the start of difficulties."