China And The Undoing Of Its Anti-American Rhetoric

As Xi Jinping formally becomes President for the third time of his country, he must explain what exactly is his foreign policy that depends so much on anti-US harangue.

In other words, it is time China tailored its policy to its ultimate goal. It has to choose between being dissatisfied with being a regional, Asian, power or has dreams of becoming a genuine superpower like the US claims it is.

If it is the first, it must be proactive in settling its geopolitical constraints within Asia. If not, it can continue to invest in its anti-American invective.

In recent days, even as Xi brought Saudi Arabia and Iran to the negotiating table doing something the US failed to do, the Chinese propaganda machinery, instead of focusing on that diplomatic victory, spent more time spewing fresh criticism against the United States, with no less a person that Foreign Minister Qin Gang – a former envoy to the US no less – claiming how the Americans were ‘cheating’ in global competition. He did so even as his President also indulged in such rhetoric.

Both the men took different routes to say the same thing the world has gotten used to hear from China of late: The US is at fault for everything wrong with the world. As Foreign Policy said, Washington has become a convenient scapegoat for anything that doesn’t go Beijing’s way.

Who’s responsible for the faltering Chinese economy and the answer is because the US  “implemented all-round containment, encirclement, and suppression against us”. Why are there pushbacks in the South China Sea? Because the US is stirring up trouble. Is there a public unrest against the elite in China? Oh, that’s because the US probably encourages color revolutions.

China feeds itself on anti-US rhetoric, but nobody knows why and to what end. On the face of it, it has done nothing to better China’s image anywhere. It continues to have disputes with all countries that border with it. It threatens even big neighbours like India. Its efforts to push credit instead of aid into Africa and Latin America is more out of a sense of projecting its soft power than genuine economic engagements with poor nations.  How is any of this helping China make friends?

The country has been like this since it was founded. There was a time, till a decade ago, when Chinese leaders at least accepted they and their country need to change first before asking others to change. They endorsed China emulating economic and scientific policies from the west for its own good.  But now that China has emerged as a manufacturing giant, the claws seem to have come out and the US overnight became the enemy number one.

Xi now controls the communist party and the country far more securely than his predecessors. However, he has faced more instances of people’s unrest in comparison. One such unrest, provoked across China because of his Zero-Covid policy, unnerved him and for the first time in recent memory, the State took a step back and lifted the policy instead of the usual attempts to browbeat the people.

As the economy flounders, as there is large-scale unemployment and rising prices leading to lower consumption demand, the Chinese leadership seeks to feed the people with a regular diet of caustic anti-Americanism. Would that placate them and divert their attention from their hungry stomachs?

Foreign Policy analyses the trend: “The anti-American mood will also eventually trickle down into the treatment of US businesses in China, adding more regulatory barriers. Although Beijing is happy to carve out exceptions for finance firms with close links to the elite, officials will be sniffing the wind and unwilling to take risks for other US companies. For example, the recent thaw that allowed for many Hollywood releases in China is likely to be gone in the next six months.”

It is really all about China coming to terms with the reality that it is still a developing country despite its girth and prowess while the United States is clearly a superpower. Where China confronts its neighbours and elicits least trust from countries it comes into contact with, the US has a world-wide network of alliance agreements and overseas bases – China has one – that help it deploy its forces rapidly between continents and maritime theatres.

China, for all its brashness, is a regional power. Yes, it does wield economic power globally, has a powerful veto in the UN Security Council, and is a country of influence generally. But largely, its influence is limited to the Asian theatre, specifically to the South China Sea region. The QUAD is its rival in the Indo-Pacific while India has a more effective sway over the Indian Ocean Region. It has but one base in east Africa while it has used the BRI project to set up similar bases in several countries along the maritime goods route from Asia to Europe with not much success so far. Unlike China which borders the Pacific Ocean, the United States has direct access to and free movement across the Pacific and Atlantic and the Arctic.

Of course, with the nuclear exception. Just like the United States, China’s nuclear weapons can have a global reach. It is next only to the US in terms of nuclear and military expansion and the number of satellites in space. China’s cyber capabilities are far reaching and probably more effective than that the US possesses.

Becoming a superpower is a long-drawn process for China which has first to encounter and overcome its developing country status. It has to develop not just world-wide military reach, but economic and friendship reaches as well. Truth be told, China is not even a regional hegemon in Asia, like the US is in the western hemisphere – although that is because no other country over there is in a position to challenge it.

It is for China to decide between a national policy and empty rhetoric.