After an absence of nearly three years from the world stage, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has embarked on a whirlwind of face-to-face meetings with Western leaders at the G20 summit in Bali as he seeks to reaffirm China’s global influence.
After a three-hour meeting on Monday with US President Joe Biden to try to keep their rivalry from escalating into open conflict, Xi held talks on Tuesday with the leaders of four US allies – Australia, France, the Bas and South Korea.
China’s relations with its American allies have deteriorated to varying degrees in recent years, due to rising geopolitical tensions, trade disputes and the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Beijing’s growing partnership with Moscow despite Russia’s war against Ukraine.
While the flurry of in-person diplomacy is unlikely to fully reset relations, it could be a positive first step in preventing them from collapsing further — in some ways, similar to the encounter between Xi and Biden.
For most of the pandemic, Xi has limited his diplomatic activities to virtual summits and video conferences, hiding in Covid zero China during a time of growing tensions with the West.
Meanwhile, Biden has sought to work more closely with allies and partners to counter Beijing’s growing influence, framing the rivalry with China as part of the global clash between democracy and autocracy.
On Monday, Xi pushed back against that narrative. In a Chinese reading of the meeting, Xi described his country’s system of governance as a “democracy with Chinese characteristics”, in an apparent signal to US allies that ideological differences should not become an impassable chasm in their relations with Beijing. .
Perhaps Xi’s most anticipated in-person diplomacy on Tuesday was his meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, in part because ties between Beijing and Canberra have frayed significantly in recent years.
In a statement, Albanese called the meeting “an important step towards stabilizing Australia-China relations”.
During the meeting, Xi told Albanese that good relations between Beijing and Canberra were in “the fundamental interests of our two peoples” and “conducive to peaceful development in the Asia-Pacific region”.
“Mr. Prime Minister – you have said many times that you will manage our countries’ bilateral relations in a more balanced approach, which I very much appreciate,” Xi told Albanese.
The two countries have been locked in a deadly trade dispute and diplomatic freeze since early 2020, when China imposed tariffs on Australia following its call for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
Geopolitics is also a sore point between the two nations. Canberra is alarmed by Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific Islands, while China is angered by Australia’s new military alliance with the US and UK, intended to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and other advanced weaponry.
The leaders of the two countries last met when Albanese predecessor Scott Morrison had brief informal talks with Xi at the G20 in Japan in 2019. But it has been six years since the leaders of the two sides have not held a formal bilateral meeting after Australia. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s meeting with Xi at the G20 in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in 2016.
“We will always be better off when we talk to each other, calmly and directly,” Albanese said in his statement. “We will cooperate where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest.”
As in the case of the meeting between Xi and Biden, few Australians believe that the meeting between Xi and Albanese can completely reset the strained relations between the two countries.
“A lot has happened in the past six years when the leaders of the two countries last met and the geopolitical dynamics of the region have changed too much for a ‘reset’,” said Jennifer Hsu, researcher at the Lowy Institute in Australia.
“Furthermore, a certain influential segment of Australian foreign policy and national security institutions have fundamentally reshaped the way China is perceived and that is hard to undo,” Hsu added.
John Lee, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington and a former national security adviser to the Australian government, said China’s core objectives – such as its policies on the South China Sea, Taiwan and the South Pacific – are “fundamentally at odds with Australia’s fundamental interests”. .”
“It may be a sort of diplomatic reset, but not in substance, where both sides start to come together in genuine good faith and are willing to compromise,” Lee added.
In a sign of Xi’s busy schedule, the Chinese leader and French President Emmanuel Macron met early on Tuesday, before the two leaders appeared at the opening of the G20 summit.
The talks, which lasted 43 minutes according to the French presidency, saw Xi reiterate his support for a ceasefire and peace talks to end the war in Ukraine.
“Xi stressed that China’s position on the Ukraine crisis is clear and consistent, advocating a ceasefire, an end to the war and peace talks,” said a reading of the news outlet’s report. Chinese State CCTV.
A reading from the French presidency said the two leaders “reaffirmed their firm position on preventing the use of nuclear weapons” in the war in Ukraine – a line that was not included in the Chinese reading.
France, like other European countries, has hardened its stance on China in recent years, increasingly viewing the country as a competitor and a security concern.
Xi also met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Senegalese President Macky Sall, and is expected to meet a few other world leaders later on Tuesday.