China’s Xi attempts to claim diplomatic victory in battle for global influence after summit whirlwind

Editor’s Note: This story appeared on CNN Meanwhile, a newspaper in China, updated three times a week that examines what you need to know about the rise of the country and how it affects the world. Register here.


Bali, Indonesia
CNN

Xi Jinping may reject US President Joe Biden’s description of the 21st century as a struggle between democracy and independence, but as the G20 and APEC summits have shown, the Chinese leader is still determined to push back on American influence overseas.

Looking back at the Communist Party Congress that last month saw him consolidate and increase his power at home, the powerful leader appeared in China’s zero-Covid privacy with a crowd of individual meetings in Bali and Bangkok last week.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia on Wednesday.

Contrary to his self-imposed image as a hardliner, Xi tried to portray himself as a broad-minded politician, telling Biden at their meeting last Monday that leaders “must think and know how to interact with other countries and across the world.”

This intense diplomatic campaign appeared to be aimed specifically at US allies and regional leaders caught up in the escalating conflict between Washington and Beijing. Since taking office, Biden has strengthened relations with allies and partners to counter China’s growing influence.

“The Asia Pacific is no one’s backyard and should not be a place of great power competition,” Xi said Friday at the opening of the APEC summit, in the absence of Biden, who had returned to the US .

The whirlwind of face-to-face talks represents something of a victory for Xi, whose isolation has proved costly as China’s relations with the West and many of its neighbors have soured during the pandemic. Controversy has emerged over the origins of the coronavirus, trade, territorial disputes, Beijing’s human rights record and its close cooperation with Russia despite the brutal war in Ukraine.

“Given the large number of international heads of state who want to have one-on-one with Xi Jinping, I think it’s safe to say that (the visit) was a success on Xi’s part,” said Wen-Ti Sung , a. political scientist with the Australian National University’s Taiwan Studies Program.

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With a big smile and a handshake, the Chinese leader held talks with his counterparts in the US, Australia, France, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, among others. others – including leaders whose governments were openly critical of Beijing.

And in many speeches, Xi, who earlier this year joined Russian President Vladimir Putin to announce plans to create a “new world order,” has tried to present himself as a leader of international unity. Taking a dig at the United States, he criticized “divisiveness,” “restrictive politics,” “cold war sentiments,” and attempts to “enter politics and organize economic and trade relations.”

During these two meetings, Xi held 20 bilateral meetings with a schedule that was so full that it sometimes went late into the night. He also decided to hold many meetings in his hotel.

The optics speak for themselves.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University, said: “All the leaders were waiting in line patiently to meet the ’emperor’ of China.”

But despite the open discussion, Xi has also shown that he is willing to confront his perceived weaknesses.

In a rare, candid moment caught on camera, Xi criticized Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accusing him of leaking details of a brief conversation between them. As they parted ways, Xi was heard off camera describing Trudeau as “very stupid.”

“It reminded the whole world that there are limits to these smiling talks – as soon as you reach China’s interests you can get into trouble,” Cabestan said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Leaders' Summit in Bali, Indonesia, November 16, 2022.

China’s Xi confronts Canadian PM in hot mic moment

For Xi, the diplomatic spat with Western leaders is an important first step in mending relations – which have been severely strained by his strict foreign policy and the “warrior” talks of Chinese diplomats.

Despite its often bellicose stance, Beijing remains deeply concerned about the economic downturn with the West. The poor state of China’s economy – due to the zero-Covid shutdown and the recent US ban on the export of advanced semiconductor chips to China – has increased Beijing’s urgency to reverse this process.

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Notably, among the leaders Xi met in Bali was Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, home of semiconductor giant ASML – which is under increasing pressure from the US to stop selling products of it to China.

In their meeting, Xi urged Rutte to avoid “downsizing” and “politicization of economic and trade issues,” and invited him to visit Beijing next year.

“While Biden is trying to create so-called values ​​based on China, Xi is trying to find ways to weaken the unity of the agreement by pursuing high-level talks with those countries,” said Sung, a politician. a scientist.

Xi’s many meetings with US allies are all the more remarkable given recent tensions with Beijing over trade, politics and China’s crackdown on human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. In other multilateral forums, such as the Group of Seven Summit, Western countries issued strong statements expressing concern about China’s human rights record and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

“Amidst all of this, Xi has proven that China still has enough leverage and status to attract all these countries to find ways to cooperate with China. So in that sense, it’s a successful negotiation on Xi’s part, said Sung.

The international broadcast is also aimed at the domestic audience in China.

For Xi, the important message he wanted to send home was already set at the beginning of the trip, when he met Biden face to face for the first time as the country’s leaders.

“The fact that Xi was talking to Biden in a one-on-one environment, with confidence and smiles everywhere, creates this image that the time of the ‘G2’ has arrived,” Sung said.

Since coming to power, Xi has proclaimed the “Chinese dream” of national renewal – his vision to restore China to its former glory and find its rightful place as a world leader. In recent years, he has also emphasized the idea that the East is rising and the West is declining.

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biden g20 meeting presser screengrab 111422

Biden explains what he said to Xi Jinping at the G20 summit

For Xi’s domestic audience, the image of the superpowers of the G2 — China and the United States — served as a clear reflection of both stories. “China can now talk to the US as an equal,” Sung said.

But the Chinese people who followed the glowing news coverage of Xi’s trip would have seen a strange picture: their top leader went to internal meetings and met with world leaders without a face mask.

That was a far cry from Xi’s warning for Covid during his first foreign trip since the outbreak. On a visit to Central Asia in September, Xi wore a mask when he got off his plane and skipped a maskless dinner where leaders ate and talked around the table.

This time, Xi seemed more comfortable without a mask. He also attended a Group of 20 dinner, where he shook hands and chatted with leaders including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

However, at home in China, Lockdowns and mass testing orders continue to plague the population, although the government has recently announced the reduction of its zero-Covid policy.

In the southern city of Guangzhou, residents rebelled against the Covid-19 lockdown, tearing down barriers and taking to the streets. In the central city of Zhengzhou, the death of a 4-month-old girl who was kept alone in a hotel sparked a nationwide outcry – the second death of a child under Covid restrictions this month.

After getting a taste of what living with Covid might look like in Bali and Bangkok, Xi returned to China on Saturday besieged by rising infections and tightening restrictions in many cities.

In addition to the Dutch Prime Minister, Xi also invited US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, French President Emmanuel Macron and newly elected Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to visit Beijing early next year.

Whether they will travel to China without Covid restrictions – and potential travel destinations – remains to be seen.

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