To meet Xi Jinping, world leaders are lining up. Should America be concerned?

The Chinese leader has been hosting heads of state and government from Spain, Singapore, Malaysia, France, and the European Union since the end of last month. This unusual pace of diplomatic activity comes as countries look to Beijing as the global economy struggles following the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

That list expanded on Friday to include Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who, like a number of the leaders who came before him, hopes to make progress toward putting an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. He is expected to sign a number of bilateral deals with Xi.

However, for Xi, this revolving door of visiting leaders—who are making the trip despite China’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion—is also a chance to assert his vision for a global order that is not governed by American rules and to respond to perceived threats.

Observers state that this is especially urgent for the Chinese leader right now.

Xi is under pressure to act after three years of reduced diplomacy as a result of China’s strict Covid-19 controls, economic difficulties, ingrained competition with the United States, and growing European concerns about Beijing’s foreign policy.

Li Mingjiang, an associate professor of international relations at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, stated, “(Chinese leaders) believe it’s time for China to make its strategic plans now.”

“A possibly decent result is to debilitate American partnerships … so that is the reason we’re seeing very demanding endeavors made by Beijing to attempt to balance out and further develop relations with European nations, and furthermore to attempt to improve and reinforce participation with arising economies,” he said.

Squeezing a wedge

Xi has used the opportunity to thread his conversations with veiled criticism of the United States and keywords that signal Xi’s own view for how to reshape global power as world leaders return to Beijing despite international concerns over the growing China-Russia relationship and Beijing’s intimidation of Taiwan.

Xi urged Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to “resolutely resist the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation” in a speech he gave to Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong late last month. He also emphasized that all Asian nations should “firmly oppose bullying, decoupling or severing industrial and supply chains.”

According to Chinese readouts, he issued a warning that the “sound development of China-EU relations requires the EU to uphold strategic independence” to Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on the same day.

Xi made comparisons between China and France when the French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beijing last week: both “firm advocates for a multi-polar world”—that is, a world without a dominant superpower—and “major countries with a tradition of independence,” as Xi put it.

Following a day of gatherings in Beijing, Xi met Macron in the southern business center point of Guangzhou to proceed an “casual” discussion – tasting tea and paying attention to the culled songs of customary Chinese music before a state supper.

Macron appeared to be open, as he has long advocated for Europe to develop its own independent geopolitical policy and defense capabilities without Washington’s help.

According to an interview with Politico, he issued a joint statement with China outlining cooperation in areas ranging from nuclear energy to food security. He also told reporters traveling with him that when it comes to the rivalry between the United States and China, Europe must not be “caught up in crises that are not ours, which prevents it from building its strategic autonomy.”

Analysts say that despite the backlash in Europe and the United States from Macron’s remarks, Beijing likely viewed them as a success.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, stated, “Everything that can weaken the US, divide the West, and move countries closer to China is good for Xi.” Subsequently, Macron’s excursion is found in Beijing as a significant triumph.”

Back is Lula.

When he meets Lula on Friday, it’s possible that Xi is preparing for yet another diplomatic victory.

With a delegation of business leaders, state governors, congressmen, and ministers, the leftist Brazilian leader, who ushered in a boom in China-Brazil trade ties during his first term in power some two decades ago, is expected to close a number of bilateral deals, ranging from technology to agriculture and livestock.

The dynamics of the relationship between China and Brazil, which experienced tense moments under former leader Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-China rhetoric, are already being altered by Lula’s return to power.

Lula has already begun his state visit in Shanghai by attending the inauguration of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as head of the New Development Bank of BRICS. BRICS is a group of emerging economies made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa that serves as an alternative power grouping to the G7, which is centered on the West. Lula has attended the inauguration of Rousseff.

Luiza Duarte, a research fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies in Washington, stated, “Xi will find in Lula a BRICS enthusiast, openness to reforms in the global governance system, and the desire to avoid automatic alignment with the US.”

In the meantime, she stated that Lula’s anticipated warm reception in Beijing “raises comparison with his frustrating less than 24-hour visit to Washington,” referring to the Brazilian leader’s visit to the White House on February 10.

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