The world faces tensions with China under Xi Jinping’s third term

By JOE McDONALD – Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) – The world faces further tensions with China over trade, security and human rights after Xi Jinping on Sunday handed himself a third five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party.

Xi has tightened domestic scrutiny and sought to use China’s economic clout to increase his influence abroad. Washington this month accused Beijing of trying to undermine US alliances, global security and economic rules. Activists say the Xi government wants to deflect criticism of human rights abuses by changing the UN definition of human rights.

Xi says “the world system is broken and China has answers,” said William Callahan of the London School of Economics. “Increasingly, Xi Jinping is speaking of the Chinese style as a universal model of world order that harks back to a kind of Cold War conflict.”

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At a Communist Party congress that ended on Saturday, Xi gave no sign of plans to change the strict “zero-COVID” strategy that has frustrated China’s public and disrupted business and trade. He called for more self-reliance in technology, faster military development and protection of Beijing’s “core interests” abroad. He did not announce any policy changes that would strain relations with Washington and its Asian neighbors.

POLITICS: Xi calls for the “great revitalization of the Chinese nation” based on revitalizing the ruling party’s role as economic, social and cultural leader in a review of what he sees as the golden age after the 1949 revolution. “Xi’s embrace of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy should put an end to any wishful thinking that Xi’s China could peacefully liberalize its politics and economy,” wrote Kevin Rudd, president of the Asia Society and former Australian prime minister, in Foreign Affairs. The Xi government has jailed dissidents, tightened internet censorship and crushed a pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. His “Social Credit” initiative tracks the public and punishes violators from fraud to littering. “Zero COVID,” which has dogged people using smartphone apps and locked tens of millions in their homes, “is an indication of how Xi Jinping wants Chinese society to function,” Callahan said. “It has to be under constant surveillance and control,” he said. “It has become much more authoritarian and sometimes totalitarian.”

ECONOMY: By 2035, the Communist Party wants per capita economic output to match that of a “middle-developed country,” Xi said in a report to Congress. According to Macquarie’s Larry Hu and Yuxiao Zhang, this indicates a doubling of production from 2020 levels. Meanwhile, however, the ruling party is building a subsidy-guzzling state-owned industry and tightening control over entrepreneurs who create wealth and jobs. This prompts warnings that economic growth, which fell to 2.2% year-on-year in the first half of 2022, will suffer. The economy faces challenges from tensions with Washington, restrictions on China’s access to Western technology, an aging population and a slump in its huge real estate industry. “If top leaders take the goal seriously, they may need to take a more pro-growth policy stance,” Hu and Zhang said in a report. Analysts are awaiting details after the party’s central economic work conference in early December.

TECHNOLOGY: Xi vowed to “build China’s self-reliance and strength in science and technology.” He didn’t give details, but previous efforts to reduce dependence on the West and Japan by creating Chinese sources of renewable energy, electric cars, computers and other technologies have prompted complaints that Beijing is violating its free trade commitments by charging its companies ahead of time protects competition. American officials fear Chinese competition could undermine US industrial leadership. China faces growing restrictions on access to Western technology, particularly from the United States, which warns it could be used to make weapons. China is building its own chip industry, but analysts say it’s generations behind global leaders. Beijing doesn’t appear to be trying to isolate China but wants to ease strategic unease by catching up with other countries, said Alicia Garcia Herrero of Natixis. She said this will involve an increase in state-led investment. “It’s going to be exciting,” she says.

SECURITY: Xi says “external and internal security” is the “foundation of national rejuvenation.” In a speech in which the word security was used 26 times, he said Beijing will “work faster” to modernize the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, and “improve the military’s strategic capabilities.” China already has the second-highest military spending in the world after the United States and is looking to extend its reach by developing ballistic missiles, submarines and other technologies. Xi refused to give up using force to unite Taiwan with the mainland. Xi also called for improved security for supplies of energy, food and manufactured goods. The party also sees “ideological safety” as a priority, leading to more internet censorship.

EXTERNAL RELATIONS: Beijing is increasingly using its economic strength as the largest trading partner for all of its neighbors as a political and security lever. China blocked imports of Australian wine, meat and other goods after its government called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Beijing tried unsuccessfully to persuade 10 Pacific island nation governments to sign a security pact this year, but is encroaching on some. Solomon Islands police officers are trained in China. Beijing wants a “China-centric security system,” Callahan said. “Beijing wants to be a global leader, and part of that, Beijing says, is leading tough global security policies.” Chinese diplomats, in a trend dubbed “wolf warrior diplomacy,” are more confrontational and sometimes violent. This month in Manchester, England, Chinese diplomats beat a protester after dragging him onto their consulate’s premises. Deputy Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said diplomats had “driven the fighting spirit”. He said the diplomatic corps will “improve its combat capabilities and always be at the forefront to uphold national interests and national dignity.”

COVID: Xi gave no indication that China’s strict “zero-COVID” strategy could ease, despite public frustration over its costs. While other countries are easing travel restrictions, China is sticking to a strategy that has kept infection rates low but has closed major cities. The party newspaper People’s Daily tried to dispel expectations of a relaxation after the end of the congress. The strategy “must continue,” she argued. Public health experts say more older people need to be vaccinated before the ruling party can ease ‘zero COVID’. That can take months. Forecasters say it could be late 2023 before controls could ease.

CLIMATE: Xi pledged a “proactive and steady” approach to reducing climate-damaging carbon emissions, but at the same time the ruling party is increasing coal production to prevent a repeat of last year’s electricity shortages and blackouts. A cabinet official said annual coal production will increase to 4.6 billion tons by 2025. That would be 12% more than 2021. Xi said in a speech to the United Nations in 2020 that China’s emissions should peak in 2030, but didn’t say at what level. China already emits more carbon than the United States and other developed economies combined, according to the Rhodium Group. China is building more coal-fired power plants, which activists say could cause higher emissions. Meanwhile, Beijing suspended a climate dialogue with Washington in August in retaliation for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to rival Taiwan.

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