China’s Aggressive Diplomacy Weakens Xi Jinping’s Global Standing


China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has used the coronavirus pandemic to shore up his political power at home, but the tools the Communist Party has exploited to do this are threatening China’s international standing.

China has demanded fealty and praise of Mr. Xi’s handling of the pandemic as a price for the country’s provision of medical supplies and expertise. It has accused Western countries of failing to protect their people, unleashing vitriol usually preserved for domestic audiences on the world, provoking anger.

In the past week officials in France, Britain and nearly two dozen African nations have rebuked actions or statements by the Chinese government. Mr. Xi’s government has now been accused of hypocrisy and hubris, for obfuscating the origins of the coronavirus and for portraying Western governments as ineffectual compared to China’s own response.

The state’s efforts to bolster Mr. Xi’s standing at home are undercutting any good will that China had generated by sending experts and medical supplies to countries on the newest front lines of the pandemic.

“There’s no doubt: We can’t have business as usual after this crisis, and we’ll have to ask the hard questions about how it came about and about how it could’ve been stopped earlier,” Britain’s foreign minister, Dominic Raab, said on Thursday.

Mr. Xi, in his many calls with counterparts around the world, has repeated the same points. The coronavirus pandemic knows no borders. The world should unite to fight it. China has turned the tide in its fight and was willing to share its expertise and experience.

And, according to Beijing’s official accounts of his calls, some leaders make the same points about China and Mr. Xi’s rule over it, often with strikingly similar language.

“Through heroic efforts, the Chinese people have beat their epidemic, and established a model for the world,” Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told him last week.

Or as President Alberto Fernández of Argentina described it two days later, “China has set an example for Argentina in the strong leadership and creativity it has demonstrated in containing the epidemic.”

Under Mr. Xi, the government does not simply want to manage the worst international crisis in decades but also have foreign leaders play a part in shoring up the Communist Party at a time when it has faced intense public discontent over its handling of the outbreak.

Chinese diplomacy, increasingly, has a transactional quality. “Basically, assistance has been given in exchange for these countries’ recognition of China’s model of the epidemic prevention and control,” said Wu Qiang, an independent political analyst in Beijing. He said that also presumed that countries would “not condemn China or hold China accountable for the outbreak.”





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