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

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Bali, Indonesia

Xi Jinping may have rejected US President Joe Biden’s description of the 21st century as a battle between democracy and autocracy, but as the G20 and APEC summits have shown, the Chinese leader is still intent on curbing American influence abroad.

Still in the wake of a Communist Party congress last month that saw him consolidate and expand his power at home, Xi broke out of China’s zero-Covid lockdown with in-person meetings in Bali and Bangkok last week.

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

In contrast to his self-effacing image as an ideological ally, Xi sought to portray himself as a broad-minded statesman, telling Biden during their meeting on Monday that leaders “need to think about engagement with other countries and broad countries and know. the world.”

This diplomatic overture appears to be particularly aimed at US allies and regional leaders caught in the bitter rivalry between Washington and Beijing. Since taking office, Biden has strengthened ties with allies and partners to counter China’s growing influence.

“The Asia-Pacific is not anyone’s backyard and should not become the arena of great power competition,” Xi said at the opening of the APEC summit on Friday, in the presence of Biden, who had already flown to the US.

The whirlwind of face-to-face diplomacy represents something of a victory for Xi, whose international isolation has been extremely costly as China’s relations with the West and many of its neighbors have soured during the pandemic. Tensions over the coronavirus outbreak, trade, territorial claims, Beijing’s human rights record and its close partnership with Russia have flared despite the devastating war in Ukraine.

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

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With a broad smile and a handshake, the Chinese leader exchanged glances with his counterparts from the US, Australia, France, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, among others, including leaders whose governments have openly criticized Beijing.

And in numerous speeches, Xi, who earlier this year joined Russian President Vladimir Putin in announcing plans to create a “new world order,” has sought to present himself as a leader of international unity. In a scathing dig at the US, he denounced “ideological divisions”, “bloc politics”, “Cold War mentality” and attempts to “politicize and weaponize economic and trade relations”.

Over the course of the two meetings, Xi held a total of 20 bilateral meetings in one schedule, which sometimes lasted until midnight. He also made it a point to hold most of the meetings in his hotel.

The optics speak for themselves.

“All the leaders lined up patiently to meet the Chinese emperor,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University.

But despite the outspoken coverage, Xi has also shown he’s willing to confront perceived slights.

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

“It reminded the whole world that there are limits to this smiling diplomacy – when you cross in China’s favor, you can get into trouble,” Cabestan said.

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

Chinese President Xi confronts the Canadian Prime Minister in a heated moment

For Xi, the diplomatic spat with Western leaders is an important step toward normalizing relations that have been strained by his foreign policy and the “wolf warrior” diplomacy of Chinese diplomats.

Despite its often aggressive stance, Beijing is increasingly concerned about economic disengagement with the West. The poor state of China’s economy – thanks to the relentless zero-covid shutdown and the recent US ban on the export of advanced semiconductor chips to China – has added to Beijing’s urgency to reverse the trend.

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

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

“While Biden is trying to build so-called values ​​against China, Xi Jinping is trying to find ways to weaken the cohesion of this alignment by pursuing high-level diplomacy with these countries,” said Sung, the politician. scientist

Xi’s numerous meetings with US allies are all the more interesting given recent tensions with Beijing over trade, geopolitics and China’s crackdown on human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. In other multilateral settings, such as the Group of Seven summit, Western countries have issued strong statements expressing concern over the human rights situation in China and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

“At the same time, Xi has proven that China still has enough influence and power to engage all these countries to find ways to cooperate with China. So this is a successful diplomacy by Xi,” Sung said.

The international show is also intended for the domestic Chinese audience.

For Xi, the key message he wanted to send home was already set at the start of the trip, when he met Biden face to face for the first time as national leaders.

“The fact that Xi spoke with Biden in a one-on-one atmosphere, with confidence and a smile, creates the image around the world that the era of ‘G2’ has arrived,” Sung said.

Since coming to power, Xi has promoted the “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation—his vision of restoring China’s past glory and restoring its rightful status as a world leader. In recent years, he also promoted the idea that the East is rising and the West is in decline.

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Biden G20 press conference 111422

Biden describes what he discussed with Xi Jinping at the G20 summit

For Xi’s domestic audience, the superpower image of the “G2″—China and the United States—served as a clear visual representation of both narratives. “China can now talk to the US as a true equal,” Sung said.

But Chinese people watching the glowing state media coverage of Xi’s visit also saw a strange picture: their supreme leader attending indoor gatherings and mingling with world leaders without a face mask.

It was a far cry from Xi’s warning about Covid during his first overseas trip since the pandemic. When he visited Central Asia in September, Xi wore a mask to get off the plane and skipped an unmasked group dinner where leaders ate and talked around a table.

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

But, back home in China, immediate lockdowns and mass testing orders are plaguing residents, despite the government’s recent announcement of easing its zero-Covid policy.

In the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, residents rebelled against the Covid-19 lockdown, breaking barriers and taking to the streets. In the central city of Zhengzhou, the death of a 4-month-old girl in hotel quarantine has sparked nationwide protests – the second child death under Covid restrictions this month.

After seeing what life with Covid can be like in Bali and Bangkok, Xi returned to China on Saturday, which has been besieged by rising infections and tightening restrictions in many cities.

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

Will they visit China, which will be free of Covid restrictions and potential travel quarantines?


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