Has Xi’s multilateral moment finally arrived?

Xi Jinping can certainly bring down the house.

In front of a worshiping crowd at the Boao Forum for Asia – the Chinese version of Davos – Xi sketch a new world order without a single dominant power, but centered around the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. While Washington grapples with upholding “rules-based order,” Xi signals plans to advance resume of the UN, a feat considered unlikely just a few months ago. But, having avoided the consequences of the cover-up of COVID-19 in Beijing, Xi now believes China’s malicious behavior has become so normalized that it is almost indistinguishable from that of the international order.

Which begs the question, has Xi’s multilateral moment finally arrived?

Previously, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have resented US suggestions that Beijing should become a responsible international stakeholder. These suggestions implied that China was operating out of bounds and that Beijing could only be accepted by adapting to the rules that Washington and its partners had manipulated to dictate China’s development and meddle in its internal affairs.

Xi found such lectures intolerable and often philosophical about China unstoppable rise to the top of the international pecking order. Speech after speech, Xi articulated the CCP’s goal of developing China in the “first world power”, at the “center of the world stage”. The “great rejuvenation” of China, it argued, was inextricably linked to restoring the country’s great power status by 2049, if not sooner. Not content with simply achieving parity with the United States, Xi’s goal has always been to surpass it.

However, in light of COVID-19 and the “deep changes unforeseen for a century, “Xi realized that China did not have to choose between overthrowing the international order and becoming part of it. In his mind, the multilateral system can now serve as both a sword and a shield for them. China’s interests – able to cover Beijing’s illiberal behavior when hemming the United States and its allies.

In describing his new vision, Xi nodded that “however powerful, China will never seek hegemony, expansion or a sphere of influence” and that China will “preserve” and “safeguard” the multilateral trading system, along with “the World trade within it “. In addition, he asserted that “mutual trust must be at the forefront” in state-to-state relations, and “leading others or meddling in the internal affairs of others will not gain any support.” This, from a country that regularly intimidates its neighbors and uses forced labor.

Journalists watch a screen showing Chinese President Xi Jinping delivering a speech at the opening of the 2021 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference in Boao, south China’s Hainan Province, April 20, 2021.
STR / AFP / Getty Images

Xi has always viewed harmony and peace as byproducts of a more integrated world, but not on the terms envisioned by the United States and its allies. By previously describing the contours of a “new eradefined through a “community of common destiny,” Xi hoped that China’s values ​​would become so accepted that it would be nearly impossible to envision a world without them. Xi’s post-COVID recalibration, which downplays high-powered bombing in favor of a UN-centric paradigm, suggests Xi is seeing his vision approaching much sooner than he expected. It’s a shift in message made all the more remarkable by China’s aggressive defense of its response to the pandemic, which was so harsh as international criticism of China reached new heights.

Xi’s shifting calculation stems from several important international developments over the past year. From China refusal Complying with the investigation into the origins of COVID-19 shows no signs of slowing down. In addition, European-led efforts to strengthen the global pandemic surveillance system, including new mandates for countries to immediately report epidemic data, have already hit large bureaucrats. stumbling blocks at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Beijing’s distinctive mercantilist economic model has proven to be resilient to the pandemic. His robust the recovery is likely to gain momentum as the United States rebounds. Beijing’s hostile takeover of Hong Kong and its arrest of democracy activists resulted in only low-level sanctions against a small number of Chinese officials. To make matters worse, the major world powers boycott Beijing Olympics next year despite China’s documented genocidal persecution of Uyghur Muslims.

Xi’s latest ideological statement made a short-term clash with the Biden administration, including interim national security, inevitable advice doubles as a version of multilateralism that “reflects the universal values, aspirations and norms” codified when the UN was founded, rather than an “authoritarian agenda”. In addition, renewed bilateral collaboration on issues such as climate change and public health has the potential to play directly in Beijing’s revisionist hands, reinforcing Xi’s narrative that China is, indeed, a sane global stakeholder.

These competing ideological frameworks pose major dilemmas for US policymakers, even though Xi’s new multilateral vision remains more theoretical than practical.

How can future US contributions to the UN be structured to improve transparency, expose China’s multilateral misdeeds and undermine Xi’s benevolent message? Will the United States and its partners effectively challenge the next UN elections to overthrow Chinese candidates who currently oversee influential standards bodies? Can the United States, Europe and Japan put aside their parish differences to address From China addiction on forced labor?

And, perhaps more importantly, can the United States harness the existing divides around global health, technology and trade to pierce Beijing’s vision and cast doubt on a world order like it. from China?

WHO To come up The annual meeting of the World Health Assembly offers the Biden administration its first major multilateral opportunity to challenge the deceptions of the Beijing pandemic, as well as its undue influence on the beleaguered global health body. It also serves as a critical gathering to outline much-needed changes to the WHO to prevent the next pandemic, while restoring US leadership at the UN. Anything less would be diplomatic malpractice, potentially paving the way for the realization of Xi’s revisionist dreams.

Craig Singleton, a national security expert and former U.S. diplomat, is China’s deputy member of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan think tank focused on national security and foreign policy issues.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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