Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday issued some aggressive remarks clearly aimed at Washington, but without naming the United States directly, in his keynote address at the Boao Forum on Asia. His emphasis was to warn against the "unilateralism of a few countries" who are prone to "bossing others around" - which can be resisted via greater global economic integration and avoiding the temptation of decoupling.
He spelled out that that countries that "boss others around or meddle in others’ internal affairs would not get any support," and that efforts to "erect walls" or "decouple" stand against market principles. This veiled swipe against the US included the words: "openness and integration is an unstoppable trend, any effort to build barriers and decouple works against economic and market principles, and would only harm others without benefiting oneself."
While there's plenty of regional and border countries, not to mention African populations, that would strongly disagree, XI asserted that "China will never seek hegemony, expansion, or a sphere of influence no matter how strong it may grow," according to a state media transcript.
The remarks came soon on the heels of the White House receiving Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday, where China topped the agenda in Biden's first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader since taking office. Their joint statement focused on China's actions that "are inconsistent with the international rules-based order" and impact "peace and prosperity" in the region, while highlighting human rights abuses and anti-democratic policies in Hong Kong, Xinjiang region, and Taiwan.
The hugely controversial US-Japan statement loomed large in the backdrop to Xi's words:
"The world wants justice, not hegemony," Xi said in remarks broadcast to the forum.
"A big country should look like a big country by showing that it is shouldering more responsibility," he said.
While Xi did not identify any country in his remarks, Chinese officials have in recent times referred to U.S. "hegemony" in public criticisms of Washington's global projection of power in trade and geopolitics.
By contrast, "true multilateralism" will serve to make the world "more fair and equitable," he said.
Bloomberg broadly observed of the speech that it was "dominated by sweeping globalist comments as Xi lauded a system with the WTO and United Nations at its center. He warned we shouldn’t let one country set the rules for all and big countries need to behave appropriately. While he has made similar points before, it’s noteworthy that he hammered the message home. Markets were little changed, with stocks erasing initial losses."
China's president also offered that the global pandemic should negate this vision of unilateralism, saying it's become clear the world must reject the "cold-war and zero-sum mentality" and oppose a new "cold war" which hinders common cooperation and progress against the most pressing matters.
And this raises what is perhaps the only 'bright spot' in current relations given the new 'common interest' on climate change. US climate envoy John Kerry last week met with his Chinese counterpart in Shanghai for what is the first high-level trip to China by a top Biden administration official.