Xi sends a message the world can’t ignore. Here’s how it has been interpreted

By Kishor Napier-Raman

Friday January 29, 2021

(IMAGE: EPA/SUPPLIED)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned global leaders about the prospects of a “new Cold War” that could “drive the world to division and even conflict”.

In a clear message to the Biden administration and its allies, he rebuked western critics of Beijing: “We should respect and accommodate differences, avoid meddling in other countries’ internal affairs and resolve disagreements through consultation and dialogue.”

Both here and around the world, Xi’s speech is getting plenty of scrutiny and interpretation. Here’s a selection.

The local view

Much domestic analysis of Xi’s speech focused, unsurprisingly, on the hypocrisy of China’s president preaching the gospel of free trade while blocking Australian coal, barley, beef and wine.

In the Nine newspapers, China correspondent Eryk Bagshaw labelled Xi’s speech “a masterclass in doublespeak”.

“Xi’s comments show that China will continue to paint itself as a victim despite its campaign of economic coercion against a country with GDP a fourteenth of its size,” he wrote.

The papers’ news write up of the speech leaned on quotes from “China hawks”, who said Xi’s words should not be taken seriously.

Over in The Australian, former China correspondent Rowan Callick noted that Xi “uses such set pieces to deliver messages designed to be heard differently by different audiences”.

Meanwhile, Liberal backbencher Dave Sharma, a critic of China, tweeted that Xi’s comments about the strong not bullying the weak and the importance of multilateralism were “welcome”, but added that he hoped they were “meant sincerely”.

The view from the States

But Xi’s speech was never really meant for Australia. Its obvious target was the Biden administration. Under Donald Trump, relations with China deteriorated, and while Biden may not pursue as blunt an approach to Beijing, there were plenty of warnings there for the incoming administration.

As Axios notes, the new administration has already taken a similar stance to Trump over China’s genocidal treatment of the Uyghurs and approach to Taiwan. The article also suggests Xi’s claim that multilateralism should not “devolve into small circles” could be in tension with Biden’s view of it as operating through alliances.

Elsewhere, there was a hint of optimism in the US media about what Xi’s speech meant. The Washington Post framed the remarks as a “call for unity” on fighting climate change and the coronavirus. CNBC also described Xi’s calls for unity, but pointed out that the speech heralded a competitive, assertive, and altogether “very different China” for Biden to deal with.

The New York Times, meanwhile, still trying to squeeze out the dregs of the profitable Trump years, saw Xi’s speech as “one more chance” for China’s leader to prove himself the antithesis of the former president.

Other allies

Elsewhere, responses to Xi’s speech have been far harsher. According to The Japan Times, the Davos address signals “no change in China’s course”, noting that while the speech was clearly targeted at the incoming Biden administration, Xi’s rhetoric appears unchanged from how he dealt with the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, a particularly brutal takedown comes in The Telegraph (UK), where international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes that Xi’s “pitch for moral world leadership has reached the point of surrealist absurdity.”

About the author
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments