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Few takers for Xi’s message that China is well-meaning global entity – Times of India


BEIJING: There are few takers as yet to President Xi Jinping‘s latest post that China is a well-meaning, friendly global entity. Peace, openness, and friendship are going to be the cornerstones of Beijing’s foreign policy, he declared at his coronation as the undisputed leader of the Middle Kingdom at the just concluded 20th Party Congress.
The world is not biting with Sinologists of all hues dubbing Xi’s policy concepts as no more than a rhetorical flourish before the faithful. Because the Xi-speak was laced with nationalist fervor and war-mongering in equal measure.
While sounding the pacifist bugle, President Xi, who has packed the politburo and the Central Committee with loyalists, was belligerent from the word go. “Confronted with drastic changes in the international landscape, especially external attempts to blackmail, contain, blockade, and exert maximum pressure on China, we have put our national interests first, focused on internal political concerns, and maintained firm strategic resolve”, he said to a round of big applause, and thundered: “We have shown a fighting spirit and a firm determination to never yield to coercive power.”
Clearly, Xi’s emphasis is on an inward-looking policy that aims to protect what China thinks it purveys and owns rather than what it proposes to project and influence. “Throughout these endeavors, we have safeguarded China’s dignity and core interests and kept ourselves well-positioned for pursuing development and ensuring security,” he remarked leaving no doubt that his foreign policy pursuits, like his much talked, about Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, is a one-way ill-lit street.
On the issue of opening up, which is badly needed for the corona-battered economy, Xi-Speak was neither here nor there though high on the decibel level. His commitment to ‘a more proactive strategy of opening up’ was wrapped in an enigmatic mystery.
“We have worked to build a globally-oriented network of high-standard free trade areas and accelerated the development of pilot free trade zones and the Hainan Free Trade Port. As a collaborative endeavour, the Belt and Road Initiative has been welcomed by the international community both as a public good and a cooperation platform. Through these efforts, we have advanced a broader agenda of opening up across more areas and in greater depth,” he said without much elaboration probably conscious of the ground reality that the country’s third-quarter growth rate was just 3.9 per cent and that it caused markets in the region to slump.
It is for nothing that Beijing has perfected the ‘PSP’ narrative – propagate, sell and promulgate, which often degenerates into sloganeering and propaganda laced with the sound of war drums to the disquiet of Taipei, and other neighbors across the hills and high seas.
Consider this excerpt from President Xi’s speech, which sets at rest any lingering doubts. “We will accelerate the development of China’s discourse and narrative systems, better tell China’s stories, make China’s voice heard, and present a China that is credible, appealing, and respectable.”
His military strategy to handle China’s neighborly standoffs fits in with the image of a cultivated nationalist. “We will establish a strong system of strategic deterrence, increase the proportion of new-domain forces with new combat capabilities, speed up the development of unmanned, intelligent combat capabilities, and promote coordinated development and application of the network information system,” he told the faithful, who, as The Washington Post says, have”handed to Xi an endless rule for flexing power.”
The Chinese President sees the big picture but shies away from telling the world how he will take his country along the path of internationalization, if at all. His references to China’s commitment to “its fundamental national policy of opening to the outside world” is conditional, subject to “the right course of economic globalization”.
Having benefitted from the global village that made China the manufacturing hub and the fountain of supply chain, he is upset at the barriers the Dragonomics is facing lately. In fact, he is not hiding his frustration even a wee bit. “China opposes protectionism, the erection of ‘fences and barriers’, decoupling, disruption of industrial and supply chains, unilateral sanctions, and maximum-pressure tactics.”
From this lament flows the commitment to work with other countries to “foster an international environment conducive to development and create new drivers for global growth”. But there is a caveat – the United States, the Eldorado that has lost its sheen, should retract from its obstructive trade policies.
However, Xi Jinping, now backed by the power of his third term, is quick to tell the world about his resolve to influence the international community through its organizations. “China works to see that multilateral institutions such as the WTO and APEC better play their role, cooperation mechanisms such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) exert greater influence, and emerging markets and developing countries are better represented and have a greater say in global affairs.”
Though several countries have been skeptical about China’s attempts to address the latter’s security and other concerns, Xi Jinping continues to harbor such aims. “China is actively involved in setting global security rules, works to promote international security cooperation, and takes an active part in UN peacekeeping operations. China plays a constructive role in safeguarding world peace and regional stability.”
Sinologists are not impressed. Xi -Speak is nothing but sloganeering, remarks, Prof Jinghan Zeng. He has authored a tome titled ‘Slogan Politics: Understanding Chinese Foreign Policy Concepts.’
Driving home his argument, Zeng says, “China has put forward a series of foreign policy concepts like ‘New Type of Great Power Relations,’ ‘Belt and Road Initiative,’ and ‘Community of Shared Future for Mankind.’ All these concepts represent China’s visions for China”.
These Chinese foreign policy concepts, Prof Zeng contends, should be understood as political slogans rather than concrete strategic plans. He defines Chinese slogans as short and striking political phrases used ‘as a means of focusing attention and exhorting to action.’
Western analysts have a different take. Beijing is making calibrated strategic moves to build Sino-centric world order, they say. So much so, for the Western egg-heads, the Chinese foreign policy concepts Prof Zeng dubs as slogans, appear as “coherent, consistent strategic plans, reflecting Xi Jinping’s concrete geopolitical visions.”
Chinese academic and media analysts don’t share this perception per se. Being close to the ground, they see the Xi concepts as “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) strategy to lead China’s national rejuvenation”.
Difficult to disagree with this view because despite the absolute power he has come to enjoy, President Xi has very little to show by way of his achievements over two terms. His Zero covid policy has ruined the economy with lockdowns while his much-talked crusade against corruption has ended up as a zero-sum game with no big fish in the net.
Slogan politics in a Communist regime are part of an unending loyalty test in factional and elite politics. President Xi is following the time-tested practice to cement his domestic hold. Theoretically, his foreign policy slogans like ‘New Type of Great Power Relations’ and ‘Community of Shared Future for Mankind’have an external facing. But have become relevant to divert attention away from Xi’s domestic failures.
Put simply, political actors are expected to repeat these slogans in written and oral forms in order to signal loyalties to the ‘owner’ of the very slogans, that is Xi Jinping, to quote Prof Jinghan Zeng, the authority on China’s ‘sloganization’ pursuits.





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