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Unmasked and in charge, China's Xi puts personal diplomacy back in play

6 Comments
By Eduardo Baptista and Martin Quin Pollard
FILE PHOTO: China's Xi Jinping at G20 summit in Bali
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping attends a session during the G20 Leaders' Summit, in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, November 16, 2022. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/Pool Photo: Reuters/WILLY KURNIAWAN

President Xi Jinping, conspicuously absent from the main stage of diplomacy during China's COVID isolation, has been mostly smiles and handshakes on his return this week with a flurry of meetings that Beijing hopes will begin to mend frayed relations.

But in an exchange that went viral, a mask-less Xi was also captured on-camera giving Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a dressing-down at the Group of 20 (G20) summit over media leaks, apparently from their bilateral meeting a day previously. It was a rare, candid glimpse of the Chinese leader and a reminder of Beijing's testy relations with the West.

China's absence from face-to-face interactions during the pandemic has been costly, diplomats and other experts say, as ties with the United States and some Asian neighbors have badly deteriorated over a range of disputes.

With other leaders having so little recent access to top Chinese officials, Xi's presence this week on the Indonesian island of Bali for the G20 followed by an APEC summit in Bangkok is magnified by its scarcity value.

The resumption of dialogue, including Xi's first meeting with Joe Biden as U.S. president and the first direct talks with an Australian leader since 2016, is itself a positive, China-watchers said, even if it doesn't immediately yield concrete results.

Besides Biden, Trudeau and Australia's Anthony Albanese, Xi also met the leaders of South Korea, Italy, Argentina, Holland and France for bilateral talks in Bali. A meeting with Britain's Rishi Sunak was cancelled because of scheduling issues, Downing Street said, while Xi held talks with Japan's Fumio Kishida and New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern in Bangkok.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul, described Xi's busy schedule as a "charm offensive" after China shut its borders for nearly three years and after Xi consolidated power last month by clinching a third term at the ruling Communist Party's congress.

"The meetings are probably not enough to make progress on thorny economic and security issues but could prevent diplomatic relations from getting worse," Easley said.

BIDEN, AND MANY MORE

Xi's week has been headlined by his three-hour session with Biden, which showed signs of a thaw in frosty bilateral relations and led to plans for U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visit Beijing early next year.

Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia under former President Barack Obama, said signs China might be willing to take preliminary steps toward cooperation on some global issues "should be treated as an experiment, not a done deal."

And while Biden returned to Washington after the G20 and is to be represented at the APEC meeting by Vice President Kamala Harris, Xi is participating in both events, which are taking place in a region that China considers its backyard.

Ja Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore, said other leaders this week were trying to gauge the state of their China relationships, "especially now that the system is much less accessible and a lot more opaque than it was before."

Xi was ferried around Bali in his own Hongqi (Red Flag) limousine - Mao Zedong used an earlier model - China's version of the U.S. presidential "Beast" limo.

Unlike Biden, Xi even attended the G20 group dinner, after skipping the ceremonial meal during a September summit of a regional security group in central Asia that was his only other trip abroad during the COVID era.

'MAJOR POWER DIPLOMACY'

For China, the outreach is an opportunity to retake initiative in an increasingly heated competition for influence with the United States, whose assertiveness in the Pacific through its support for Taiwan and its AUKUS partnership with Australia and Britain has increasingly alarmed Beijing.

China is also squeezed by U.S. efforts to cut it off from advanced semiconductor technology, prompting Xi to speak out against "decoupling" and the politicisation of economic and trade issues with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, home to chip equipment giant ASML.

"It's in China's interest to pick away at the United States' partners as much as possible," said Masafumi Iida, fellow at the National Institute for Defence Studies in Japan.

"That thinking shows in the way Xi has held summits with Australia's Albanese and South Korea's Yoon (Suk-yeol), in hopes to forge better relationships with them," he said.

Returning to in-person diplomacy also gives Xi a platform to push Chinese initiatives that further cement its stature as leader of the emerging world. He made a plug for his Belt & Road Initiative in his session with Argentina's Alberto Fernandez.

Domestically, where COVID outbreaks are resurgent and where Xi's decade in power has been increasingly authoritarian, the week of summit meetings conveys global stature and a sense of normalcy, although coverage is limited mostly to state media.

Before COVID, Xi was an enthusiastic practitioner of in-person diplomacy as China expanded its presence on the world stage through initiatives such as Belt & Road, generating goodwill in particular among developing countries, whose leaders were honored with a one-on-one meeting and photos with Xi.

Li Mingjiang, associate professor of international relations at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said perceived pressure in Beijing from Washington's global assertiveness may have been "extra incentive" to hurry back.

"I think in the coming years you'll see China indeed making a serious effort to implement its major power diplomacy," he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


6 Comments
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But in an exchange that went viral, a mask-less Xi was also captured on-camera giving Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a dressing-down at the Group of 20 (G20) summit over media leaks, apparently from their bilateral meeting a day previously. It was a rare, candid glimpse of the Chinese leader and a reminder of Beijing's testy relations with the West.

Disgusting. That Scumbag needs a real dressing down himself.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

President Xi Jinping, conspicuously absent from the main stage of diplomacy during China's COVID isolation, has been mostly smiles and handshakes on his return this week with a flurry of meetings that Beijing hopes will begin to mend frayed relations.

Second most powerful leader in the world.

Congrats in keeping Covid infections the lowest in the world, according to health experts and governmen statistics.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Congrats in keeping Covid infections the lowest in the world, according to health experts and governmen statistics.

There is a reason why international experts disapprove from the strategy, keeping cases low by keeping deaths high is not a sustainable nor desirable way to do it.

As you have yourself recognized by agreeing lockdowns are not only unnecessary, they are also more damaging to public health than beneficial.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

There is a reason why international experts disapprove from the strategy, keeping cases low by keeping deaths high is not a sustainable nor desirable way to do it.

And there is a reason why global health experts point to the zero covid policy as the best strategy for keeping covid infections the lowest in the world, which you cannot disprove.

As you have yourself recognized by agreeing lockdowns are not only unnecessary, they are also more damaging to public health than beneficial.

Really? Do you have sa source for this? Or is it just part of your imagination? Australia and NZ used the lockdown approach to great success and when they stopped doing so they saw covid infections and deaths attributed to it skyrocket. This information is openly available and those in the medical or science industry acknowledge this, so some simple research would show you the government statistics. Unless you know want to claim to be a statistician and argue with the government numbers?

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Trudeau deserved that schooling. Using identity and woke politics to fuel imperialism and neo-liberalism. Do what you want in your own country but don't tell others what they can or can't do in their own country. Message to the west - the Global South is on the up. Deal with it. You do not rule the world.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

And there is a reason why global health experts point to the zero covid policy as the best strategy for keeping covid infections the lowest in the world, which you cannot disprove.

That is still false as you have been unable to provide any evidence of experts doing this recommendation, when a measure causes more problem and have unacceptable requirements (such as the population losing rights, ways of making a living or access to hospitals) it can't be called the "best", but the opposite.

Really? Do you have sa source for this? 

https://japantoday.com/category/features/kuchikomi/more-kids-showing-signs-of-premature-aging#comment-3257354

Sweden never imposed draconian lockdowns and instead essentially followed the focused protection model.

Locking down children, danger taping playgrounds and replacing the classroom with 8 hours of iPad screen time was wrong.

Excellent points.

Why pretend you have not explicitly agreed with this? is contradicting yourself repeatedly the only way you can discuss?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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