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Saturday, August 13, 2022

In the last 21 months, Xi has not left China. It’s possible that Covid is just part of the problem

Chinese President Xi Jinping will not be present at this weekend’s meeting of the Group of 20 leaders in Rome, according to the group’s website. He is also not scheduled to attend the climate talks in Glasgow, which will take place next week and where China’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions is considered as critical to mitigating the catastrophic implications of climate change. He has not yet met with President Biden in person, and it does not seem that he will do so very soon.

Mr. Xi has not left China for the last 21 months – and the clock is still ticking.

The purported reason for Mr. Xi’s absence from international travel is Covid-19, but authorities have not said that this is the case specifically. Additionally, the calculation has supported a more significant change in China’s international and internal policies.

Under Mr. Xi’s leadership, China no longer feels obligated to collaborate — or at the very least to be seen as working — with the United States and its allies on conditions other than those that are in its own interests.

Mr. Xi’s recent absence from the international scene, on the other hand, has hindered China’s efforts to promote itself as a viable alternative to American leadership. Furthermore, it has coincided with, and some argue has led to, a significant deterioration in the country’s ties with the majority of the rest of the globe throughout this period.

Chinese leaders have instead focused on safeguarding Mr. Xi’s health and on internal political manoeuvring, which will culminate in a Communist Party meeting next year, at which he is anticipated to claim another five years as the country’s leader. The face-to-face exchange of diplomatic messages is thus a lesser priority than it was during Mr. Xi’s initial years in power.

As Noah Barkin of the research company Rhodium Group put it, “There is a bunker mentality in China right now.” Barkin studies China for the business.

With Mr. Xi’s resignation, he has lost the opportunity to directly combat the country’s steadily declining image, which comes at a time when the country is facing mounting tensions on trade, Taiwan, and other problems.

Earlier this year, Mr. Xi made concessions in order to secure an investment pact with the European Union, partially in order to deter the United States, only to have the arrangement wrecked by disagreements on political penalties in the aftermath. Since then, Beijing has declined to accept Mr. Xi’s offer to meet with leaders of the European Union in Europe later this year.

Mr. Xi’s absence has also dimmed expectations that the conferences in Rome and Glasgow would be able to make significant progress on two of the most critical challenges confronting the world today: the recovery from the Ebola epidemic and the battle against global warming.

In order to continue his approach of cooperating with China on subjects such as climate change while the two nations are at odds on others, President Biden, who is attending both events, had intended to see Mr. Xi on the margins of the two events. A “virtual summit” between the two presidents will take place before the end of this year, but no specific date has been set yet.

It was only five years ago that President Xi Jinping positioned himself as the defender of a global order at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, while former  President Donald J. Trump led the United States into a “America first” retreat. Trying to fulfil that job while holed down inside China’s borders, which are mainly closed as a precaution against the epidemic, is challenging.

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