Mon, Mar 11, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Diplomatic outbursts mar Xi’s plan to boost China’s standing

By Peter Martin  /  Bloomberg

China’s diplomats are not being very diplomatic.

In the past few months, its envoy to Canada publicly accused his hosts of “white supremacy,” its ambassador in Sweden labeled the Swedish police “inhumane” and blasted the country’s “so-called freedom of expression,” and its chief emissary in South Africa said that US President Donald Trump’s policies were making the US “the enemy of the whole world.”

“I don’t think we are witnessing a pattern of misstatements and slips of the tongue,” said Ryan Hass, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who previously oversaw China affairs at the US National Security Council. “We seem to be watching China’s diplomats matching the mood of the moment in Beijing. Beijing rewards diplomats that are aggressive advocates of China’s views and scorns those that it perceives as overly timid.”

That might be damaging Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) efforts to win friends abroad and capitalize on Trump’s international unpopularity. While China has seized on the trade war and US disengagement abroad to pitch itself as a champion of globalization, 63 percent of respondents to a Pew poll in 25 countries last year said they preferred the US as a world leader, compared with 19 percent for China.

At stake is China’s avowed goal of establishing itself as a global superpower with influence over a network of allies to balance US influence. China is pouring billions into global efforts such as Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative to forge stronger links with countries around the world.

However, China’s increasingly strident diplomatic approach could do more harm than good. Anti-China sentiment has played a pivotal role in election surprises across Asia and more countries around the world are becoming skeptical of Chinese investment — particularly in telecommunications, with fears growing about using its equipment in 5G networks due to concerns about espionage.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to faxed questions about the more aggressive language from diplomats.

After Trump took office, China has sought to portray itself as a supporter of the international order, with Xi himself defending globalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. His charm offensive stood in contrast to Trump, who has reshaped public discourse with regular insults of other world leaders on Twitter.

Even so, foreign diplomats in Beijing say that the behavior of Chinese officials has become far more aggressive and assertive in private meetings in recent years.

Their discussions have become more ideological, according to one senior foreign envoy, who described the behavior as a strong sense of grievance combined with increasing entitlement about China’s international role and rights.

China’s reported behavior at the APEC summit in November last year highlighted the shift.

Papua New Guinea police were called after Chinese officials attempted to “barge” into the office of the country’s foreign minister to influence the summit’s communique, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.

Chinese officials later denied the report, calling it “a rumor spread by some people with a hidden agenda.”

Chinese diplomats’ advocacy for the country’s embattled tech giant, Huawei Technologies Co, has even riled heads of government. After the Chinese ambassador to the Czech Republic, Zhang Jianmin (張建敏), announced in November last year that the Czech cybersecurity body’s decision to ban Huawei did not represent the view of the Czech government, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said: “I do not know what the ambassador is talking about,” according to Czech Radio.

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