Xi’s Change of Mind Is Too Late to Stop China’s Collision with the West Simon tisdall
IIs it too late to stop the slide towards total confrontation between China and Western democracies? A seemingly conciliatory speech by Xi Jinping last week led some observers to suggest the Chinese president might want to mend the barriers. But one change of tone in Beijing won’t cut much ice in Washington unless Xi’s aggressive policies change as well.
Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has overseen a marked shift towards authoritarianism at home and increased “assertiveness” – a polite word for bullying – abroad. He established the kind of personal, almost sectarian, domination over the Chinese Communist Party that had not been seen since Mao Zedong’s time.
So when Xi talks, as he did last week, about the need to have arrogant CCP spokespersons and hostile diplomats from the “wolf warrior” country to present the world with a more “lovable” image and “Humble” of China, he really criticizes himself. and its own management style.
Yet Xi never had to woo ordinary voters. He purged all serious rivals. He praises uniformity and manifests a hatred of “difference”, as it is cruelly manifested in Xinjiang. He reigns through fear, political cunning and brute force. Love has nothing to do with it.
Seen from another perspective, Xi’s speech would not have been out of place at a militant leaning meeting around 1976 or, for that matter, in the former Soviet politburo. Like far-left politicians and neo-Marxists around the world, Xi believes it is not his policies that are at issue, but a failure to explain and communicate them effectively.
China needs to expand its “circle of friends,” he said. The “propaganda organizations” (ie state media) must make it clear to everyone that the CCP wanted “nothing but the happiness and good fortune of the Chinese people.” Does he really believe that people will swallow such a tosh? Coming from a man bent on supplanting the United States as a global hegemony, his words suggest surprising naivety about the world beyond China or shocking cynicism.
According to the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, major under-the-radar state-led projects to “tell the story of China” and expand its influence are already underway. “Over the past decade, the CCP has overseen a dramatic expansion of efforts to shaping media content around the worldHe said, even as the CCP stifles critical independent coverage.
Using propaganda, disinformation, and censorship, “Beijing has insinuated its content … into foreign media markets in many subtle ways, for example, through content sharing deals. .. Hundreds of millions of news consumers around the world watch, read, or listen to news created or influenced by the CCP, often without knowing its origins.
Xi’s image massaging and media manipulation went even further last week as Beijing removed coverage of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Hong Kong media were urged not to not talk about it. An annual vigil for the victims has been banned amid more arrests. The CCP’s historic record of guilt on Tiananmen has been erased. Yet crushing Hong Kong’s freedoms today is a very public crime that Xi cannot eliminate. Friendly it is not.
The siege of Taiwan is also blatant and loveless, where Chinese military forces regularly launch provocative and high-profile territorial incursions. Like a Latter-day Emperor, Xi sees reunification as the crowning achievement of his reign. The West’s shameful failure to defend Hong Kong emboldens him and fears grow that it may soon use force. Taiwan could still become the American Falklands.
All around the borders of China, India and South Korea to Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia, a dark history of intimidation, impunity and aggression unfolds, as opposed to the story made in Beijing of the coexistence between neighbors. The list of Western grievances against Xi’s China, often brimming with open anger, is growing almost daily. The problem now – assuming Xi really has doubts – is that it may already be too late. A tipping point has been reached. The tolerance for Chinese rudeness is almost exhausted.
Xi might not be able to change course even if he wants to. For nearly a decade, it unleashed wave after wave of what analyst Sulmaan Wasif Khan calls “bellicose and defensive nationalism “ – political, economic and military. China, he wrote, “has poisoned itself with its own rhetoric … As the United States has discovered over the Donald Trump years, nationalist fires cannot be stoked without them ending up. blaze uncontrollably ”.
An account is due. US President Joe Biden has stuck to his predecessor’s hard line and steadily reinforces it. The G7 summit next weekend will support it. The Quad – an alliance of the United States, Japan, India and Australia – is reborn. Defense spending is increasing on both sides. New weapons, including nuclear, are entering service. Britain, following other NATO powers, has sent a naval battle group to the South China Sea.
Punitive sanctions are increasing, noisy diplomatic clashes and trade disputes intensify, mutual recriminations abound. And now, having previously dismissed it as a Trumpian conspiracy hoax, Biden has ordered an expedited investigation in the theory that Covid-19 fled from a secret lab in Wuhan and Xi covered it up.
Biden’s action is legitimate, epidemiologically speaking. But it is also unmistakably political. Seen from Beijing, it looks like an openly hostile act, if not a trap, that potentially undoes all efforts to portray China as a benign global superpower. For Xi and his legacy, the threat posed by the “Wuhan virus” story is existential.
Xi is kind as the CCP prepares to celebrate its centenary next month. But that will not last, because nothing has fundamentally changed. Mentalities in the West are hardening. And Xi is not afraid of a fight. Whichever way he turns it, the slide towards confrontation seems inexorable.