China’s Xi returns to international stage amid rising tensions

After a lengthy absence from major international gatherings, Chinese leader Xi Jinping is leaving his country’s Covid-19 bubble and venturing abroad next week into a dramatically changed world marked by rising confrontation.

Mr Xi will attend the G20 meeting of industrial and emerging market nations in Indonesia followed by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Thailand.

He will meet individually with other leaders, including US President Joe Biden on Monday in their first in-person talks since Mr Biden took office in January 2021.

The Chinese leader has relied mainly on speeches by video to deliver China’s message at the UN and other forums since 2020.

The period has seen a sharp deterioration in China’s relations with the West over the Covid-19 pandemic, a crackdown on civil rights in Hong Kong, military threats against Taiwan and Beijing’s tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More broadly, China and the West are moving farther apart.

The US and Europe are looking at China more critically, with Germany blocking investment in its companies, while China’s leaders have shown a determination to go their own route.

Bruce Dickson, a Chinese politics expert at George Washington University, described a “growing fear, concern and anxiety that China doesn’t want to be a partner with other countries. It wants to push its own agenda regardless of the opposition to it”.

More moderate voices in both Beijing and Washington advocating better relations are being pushed to the side.

“It’s really an effort of who can come up with the toughest policy to resist China’s efforts,” Mr Dickson said.

After a state visit to neighbouring Myanmar in January 2020, Mr Xi stayed in mainland China for more than two years.

He emerged first on a brief visit to Hong Kong for the 25th anniversary of its return from British rule on July 1 and a short trip to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in September for a regional summit.

Xiong Zhiyong, an international relations professor at China Foreign Affairs University, expects Chinese leaders will make more trips abroad as the pandemic eases globally.

“The current international situation is overly complex and national leaders need to have an opportunity for discussion,” he said.

“Online exchanges are not enough.

“Meetings among leaders are important and irreplaceable.”

Police officers man a security checkpoint in the Haizhu district in Guangzhou in southern China’s Guangdong province (AP)© Provided by PA Media

Pakistan prime minister Shahbaz Sharif and German chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Beijing to meet Mr Xi earlier this month.

But under China’s “zero-Covid” policy, it remains difficult to travel into China, while domestic travel is restricted wherever a serious outbreak occurs.

Besides Mr Biden, other leaders Mr Xi will meet on this trip include Indonesian president Joko Widodo, Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha, French President Emmanuel Macron, Senegalese President Macky Sall and Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez.

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese said that he would ask Mr Xi to lift billions of dollars in trade barriers if they meet, while Mr Biden said earlier this week he plans to discuss growing US-China tensions over trade, the self-ruled island of Taiwan and China’s relationship with Russia.

China has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and accused the US and Nato of forcing Russia’s hand.

It also fired missiles over Taiwan and appeared to rehearse a military blockade of the island after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August.


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