Xi Jinping has secured his power at home. Now it’s going backwards internationally

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After securing power late last month, Chinese leader Xi Jinping is returning to the world stage in a personal bid to strengthen China’s position amid growing tensions with the West.

A series of state visits to Beijing last week, including meetings between Xi and the leaders of Tanzania, Pakistan, Vietnam and Germany, and expected trips to international summits later this month, are a marked change of pace for Xi, who has severely curtailed his foreign outreach. guests and left the country only once since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For more than two years, Xi – long the most important figure in the Chinese Communist Party – has been in decline as China ramps up its strict zero-Covid policy that seeks to eradicate the virus using border controls, mandatory quarantines, lockdowns and lockdowns. routine mass test.

China continues to shrink its citizens under that policy, but Xi’s latest and expected diplomatic schedule suggests he is not ready to lose his place alongside other world leaders after assuming a break-even third term after the ruling Communist Party’s National Congress last month.

Han Xi made a sharp assessment of the external threats facing China. Those growing challenges stem from a “grim and complex international situation,” with “external attempts to suppress and contain China” threatening to “increase at any time,” Xi told his party members and the nation in a work report to the congress.

“(Xi) made it very clear … that there are big challenges (coming) to China in an increasingly less favorable international environment and that’s the area China needs to contend with,” said Steve Tsang, director of SOAS at the University of London. China Institute.

Xi’s increased foreign engagement is likely a bid to counter those headwinds, but also based on a calculation: “He must have concluded that the Covid risk is more bearable than he previously thought.” According to Tsang.

For a leader whose goal has been to improve China’s global standing during his decade in power, his reduced physical presence on the world stage – such as sending his foreign minister to last year’s G20 – threatens to hamper Xi’s personal diplomacy.

While other leaders have resumed international travel and hosted dignitaries, Xi’s list of diplomatic events has largely been dominated by far-flung engagements: he has spoken to leaders of key countries in online summits, delivered addresses via video link, taken group photos “in the cloud ” they took out with their peers. virtual events – in an apparent effort to minimize the potential risk of Covid-19.

A handful of foreign leaders have met in Beijing this year, marking their first state meetings since 2020. But the vast majority who visited before the party congress were at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. China’s friendly nations like Russia and Egypt then got involved, while the US and its allies mounted a diplomatic boycott of China’s human rights record.

Xi made his first trip out of the country since the start of the pandemic in September to attend a meeting of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan.

Xi’s foreign affairs priorities in the coming weeks and months will likely continue to focus on strengthening ties with friendly nations, experts say, as he finds himself in a very different world from the last time he hosted or attended summits like the G20. or the summit of the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation – both of which will meet later this month and are expected to attend, although Beijing has not yet confirmed it.

Since then, concerns have been raised in the West over Beijing’s strained relationship with Moscow, reports of China’s human rights abuses in its Xinjiang region and restrictions on freedoms in Hong Kong, as well as heightened negative views of China’s handling of the pandemic. .

“The main challenge facing China is deteriorating relations with the US… As the US is hostile, China faces major headwinds in its relations with the West, especially in terms of economic decoupling,” said Yun Sun, the director. China program at the Stimson Center in Washington.

“China will not directly challenge the US as a competitor, but will try to gather support and solidarity from the rest of the world,” he said.

Xi’s meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday, the first between Xi and a G7 leader in three years, could be one aspect of that strategy, as a more China-friendly Germany has the potential to hinder solidarity. China from the European Union, experts say.

During his visit, where he also spoke with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Scholz expressed his support for economic cooperation with China, “on an equal footing,” but said he raised issues such as human rights, market access and the future of self-governing Taiwan. also emphasizing that China’s relationship with an EU member affects everyone.

Scholz brought responsibility for promoting peace in Ukraine, and Xi used the meeting to release what may be his harshest comments on the escalation of the conflict.

Xi called on the international community to “oppose the threat or use of nuclear weapons” and prevent a “nuclear crisis in Eurasia”, drawing an apparent red line, although China has yet to condemn Russia’s invasion of its neighbor, as Xi maintains. close relationship with President Vladimir Putin.

Scholz, who faced harsh criticism at home for making the trip, which critics saw as an endorsement of Xi’s rule, later said those comments about nuclear weapons made the trip “worth it.”

Xi’s strategy at upcoming summits may fall along similar lines.

“China will try to demonstrate that it is still committed to the world, and that it is willing to take on the leadership it needs,” said the Stimson Center’s Sun.

Still, there will be challenges, as nearly three years into the pandemic, China’s top leader is only beginning to take it personally again. The Sun added: “There’s a lot of catching up to do.”