China’s powerful leader Xi Jinping has told communist party cadres that he has a plan to make their regime resilient to economic attacks from the US so “nobody can beat us down or choke us”.
Communist party general secretary Xi — who is also China’s president and the country’s most controlling leader since Mao Zedong — made the comments in a recently published speech that revealed the mixture of confidence and paranoia among Beijing’s leadership at the end of the Trump era.
Instructing officials at Beijing’s Central Party School in January days after supporters of Donald Trump attacked the US Capitol building on January 6, Mr Xi said they were living in a time of great upheaval.
“The most conspicuous feature of the world today can be summarised in one word — ‘turmoil’ — and this trend looks like it will continue,” he said in a speech published by the party’s leading ideological journal Qiushi.
He indicated that China’s almost total elimination of COVID-19 compared to the Trump administration’s bungling had demonstrated the superiority of their party-led government.
“Time and history are on our side and this is where our conviction and resilience lie, and why we are so determined and confident,” he said.
But Mr Xi warned that China still faced enormous challenges, which required increased attention on national security threats to their $20 trillion economy, the second largest in the world and forecast to grow by 8 per cent this year.
China’s leader argued his economic vision would make the party indestructible from further sanctions and tech restrictions similar to those imposed by the Trump administration.
“Only by standing on our own feet, by smoothing the domestic economic circulation and by working hard to cultivate a body that is incorruptible and not invaded by poisons, can we leave aside the changes internationally and always be full of vigour to survive and develop,” Mr Xi said.
“No one can beat us down and choke us!”
Since coming to office weeks after that speech, President Joe Biden has attempted to calm some of the anxiety in Beijing that was stoked by Mr Trump and his secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
“Biden isn’t framing China as an evil empire to be contained. He’s not calling for the Chinese Communist Party to be overthrown,” said Daniel Russel, former US assistant secretary of state for east Asia in the Obama administration.
“He’s signalling his determination to out compete China,” Mr Russel said in a briefing assessing the first 100 days of the Biden administration’s China policy.
But politics in Washington — which as in Beijing currently “favour the hardliners” — had influenced the new President’s approach.
“The last thing that Biden needs is to expose his flanks to China hawks in Congress before he’s locked down the legislation he needs,” Mr Russel said.
On Thursday, Mr Biden again used anxiety about China’s rise to pressure the US Congress to pass his $2.3 trillion infrastructure and high tech research package.
Mr Biden said the US needed to increase spending on research and development because “the Chinese are eating our lunch”.
“If it keeps going the way, they’re going to own the electric car market in the world,” he said.
“We’ve got to compete.”
Working closely with allies and partners has been another key plank of the Biden administration’s China policy.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was this week in London for a G7-plus meeting dominated by concerns about China’s trade practices, cyber theft, human rights violations and assertiveness in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
Mr Russel, who worked closely with then vice-president Biden in the Obama administration, said leaders around the Asia-Pacific were looking for signs of whether the new president would restore America’s credibility after the erratic Trump presidency.
“And nobody is watching more closely to see if the US is getting its mojo back than the Chinese,” he said.
Despite the deep suspicion shared by the world’s two most powerful countries, the personal relationship between Mr Xi and Mr Biden was one of “few intact threats” in the “safety net under the US-China relationship”, according to Mr Russel, now a vice-president at the Asia Society Policy Institute.
He recalled an encounter with Mr Xi in Beijing with Mr Biden back in the Obama era.
“I vividly remember him saying to Xi Jinping … He said: ‘My father used to tell me: Joey, the only thing worse than war, is an unintentional war,’” Mr Russel said. “Then I think he recited a poem by Yeats or something.”