Under Xi Jinping, China takes massive hit to global image

Totalitarian regime.

Xi Jinping’s 10-year ironclad rule and his quest for an unprecedented third term, which will be decided at the forthcoming 20th Party Congress, has diminished the standing of China on the international stage and wreaked havoc on the domestic economy.  

To maintain absolute power so that he can rule on indefinitely, Xi has imposed totalitarian control to the detriment of the national interests of China.  Given the current dynamics, it seems Xi would have no trouble getting a third term and it is expected that he will continue to project the image of a strongman both at home and abroad. However, Xi’s success comes at a heavy cost.  

Because of Xi, the world has now woken up to see the dangers posed by the Communist Party of China (CCP); the U.S. categorizes China as a strategic opponent and the ongoing trade war shows no sign of slowing down; foreign investment and businesses are leaving; the economy is facing the biggest crisis ever and there is fierce political infighting within the CCP in a bid to counter Xi. These are the consequences of Xi’s self-serving policies, all self-inflicted wounds which are destabilizing the country’s social and economic fabrics.

In the latest result released on June 29, the Pew Research Center’s survey findings showed that global negative views of China remain at historic highs, and that few have confidence in Xi Jinping to do the right thing regarding world affairs.  Unfavorable opinions are related to China’s policies on human rights, China’s military power which is seen as a very serious threat, and involvement in domestic politics, particularly severe in South Korea, Australia, the U.S. and Japan.

Significantly, in most countries, the survey clearly showed a majority of people think it is more important to promote human rights in China, even if it harms economic relations, rather than prioritizing strengthening economic relations and not addressing human rights issues. 

The CCP’s human rights violation is on full display in Xinjiang.  Officials are waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups, using forced disappearance, arbitrary detention in internment camps, coercive population control, torture, physical and sexual abuse, mass surveillance, family separation, and repression of cultural and religious expression.  Human rights violation also happened across China including in Hong Kong, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, among others.

Wolf warrior antics

On the international stage, the phenomenon of the wolf warriors started with Xi when he took power in 2012. He is ambitious and wanted to craft a personality of cult in the mold of Mao Zedong to consolidate his control and extend his rule indefinitely and the wolf warriors serve his agenda by projecting his power overseas with a view of messaging to the local audience.  

Over the past years, wolf warriors have taken to social media and press briefings to insult and attack countries that are perceived to be not supportive enough of the CCP’s position and others that do not toe the party lines.  Wolf warriors are highly nationalistic and combative and they do tend to damage diplomatic relationships with other countries and alienate what few friends and allies that China has.

Wolf warriors are driven by fear as well as ambition in what they say as they go about executing Xi’s wish to assert the CCP’s interest forcefully on the global stage and by doing so, they hope to advance their careers, or at least avoid jeopardizing their jobs.  Under Xi’s push of Maoism, wolf warriors are forced not to identify with universal values and the rules of law and all the time, they give off the impression that what they say is devoid of fact.

Illegal “nine-dash line” claim of South China Sea and other maritime aggression

On July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), in a case raised by the Philippines, rejected China’s “nine-dash line” claims of almost the whole of South China Sea as having no basis under international law.  Although the Tribunal’s ruling was final and legally binding on both parties, Xi refused to accept the ruling even when China is a State Party to UNCLOS which established the Tribunal.  

Additionally, the CCP continues to relentlessly unilaterally change the status quo by coercion in the Taiwan Strait and East China Sea.

In June, the CCP increased tension and upped the stakes when a foreign ministry spokesperson declared that China has jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait and considered it as internal waters.

Xi is bent on invading Taiwan, an independent country which accounts for 92 percent of the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing capacity, and which dominates the production of chips that power almost all advanced civilian and military applications, of which the U.S. and China are extremely reliant on.

Xi sees the invasion as “a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Communist Party of China.”  Effectively, Xi has staked his legacy on bringing Taiwan under China’s control.  Therefore, he has no room to compromise and the invasion of Taiwan is a matter of time.  When that happens, Xi will have a stranglehold on the world’s supply of chips.

The CCP’s military incursions into Taiwan’s airspace and waters have become more aggressive in the past several years, heightening the risk of conflict.  Since September 2020, the CCP increased the use of gray zone tactics by routinely sending aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), with most occurrences taking place in the southwest corner. In 2021, Chinese military planes entered the ADIZ on 961 instances over 239 days. 

At East China Sea, tensions between China and Japan over the contested Senkaku islands, which Japan has control of since 1895, continue to increase.  The CCP is using gray zone tactics there as well.  The waters around Senkaku have potential oil and natural gas reserves, are near important shipping routes, and are surrounded by rich fishing grounds.

In June 2020, the Japanese Coast Guard stated that Chinese government ships had been spotted for a record number of consecutive days in the territorial waters of the Senkaku islands.  On June 4, 2022, Chinese and Russian warships were spotted near Senkaku inside the contiguous zone, for 40 minutes and one hour respectively.  This was the fourth time a Chinese warship made an incursion since June 2016.

Additionally, in an apparent show of force against Japan, in October 2021, Chinese and Russian warships sailed around Japan.

Generally, gray-zone activities are gradual campaigns by state and non-state actors that combine non-military and quasi-military tactics which fall below the threshold of armed conflict. They aim to thwart, destabilize, weaken, or attack an adversary, and are often tailored toward the vulnerabilities of the target state. 

The South China Sea, Taiwan Strait and East China Sea are all strategic regions where important sea trade routes pass through and therefore, ensuring the safety of maritime traffic is paramount.  

The CCP’s escalation of tension and unilateral changes to the status quo by gray zone tactics shook the very foundation of the entire rules-based international order, thereby endangering prosperity, peace and stability, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

Iron brotherhood between Xi and Putin is dragging China down

Another of Xi’s decision that put a big dent on China’s reputation is his continued support of Putin’s unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.  The invasion is a serious violation of international law prohibiting the use of force and of the UN Charter.  This is an unprecedented situation in which Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, whose primary responsibility is maintaining international peace and security, has started a war that goes against the very mission of the Security Council.

Xi’s public support of Putin before and after the invasion of Ukraine, including by openly saying the relationship with Russia is “without limits”, spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories that undermine the free world and not condemning and imposing sanctions on Russia, has made it untenable for the international community to engage with the CCP.  

And Xi, who showed openness to provide Russia with requested military and financial aid, has exposed China to potential secondary sanctions being imposed by the U.S. and its allies.  U.S. President Biden on March 17 stated that Putin is a “war criminal”.  By aligning so closely with Putin, Xi has dragged China down to the level of a global pariah.  

There are also concerns that Xi is closely monitoring the Ukraine invasion and learning about western military capabilities in preparation of his own invasion of Taiwan.  Xi is likely to view Putin’s success in maintaining a functioning economy as a blueprint for countering international sanctions of the Chinese economy, when it comes down to take.

The CCP’s domestic woes

Xi’s domestic policies bring back Mao Zedong’s revolutionary struggles against landlords, capitalists, business owners and private ownership.  His policy of a broad crackdown on the private sector is contributing to the current banking, housing and debt crises, high unemployment among young people and low consumption.  

His insistence on a zero-Covid policy, mass testing and draconian regular lockdowns have devastated the economy as well.  Basically, China remains sealed off from the rest of the world.

A zero-Covid policy and the Chinese-made vaccines are not scientifically proven to be effective against Covid-19 and all its variants.  And because of the CCP’s disinformation campaign against western vaccines, Xi has not import mRNA vaccines, which are by far the best defense. 

On the other hand, the heads of the U.S. FBI and UK’s MI5 on July 6 issued a dire warning to business leaders about the threats posed by Chinese spying, aimed at stealing western companies’ technology and intellectual property, and using what they stole to undercut competition and dominate the market.  This unprecedented announcement further eroded business confidence and reputation of the Chinese economy.

Therefore, as Xi pursues an aggressive foreign policy and repressive domestic policy, he is confident about China’s global power and that he will face no meaningful pushback from both fronts.  As such, he will continue on his current path, alienate many other countries, and be a threat to prosperity, world peace, stability, and the rules-based international order.

Photo credit: Shag 7799 / Shutterstock.com

Lee Kok Leong

Lee Kok Leong

Kok Leong, executive editor, has overall editorial responsibility for the direction and focus of Maritime Fairtrade. He has two decades of working experiences, including holding senior regional roles in business-to-business (B2B) print and online publications. He enjoys his work as a journalist, and regards it as a calling.

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