Xi Jinping Pushes China’s Global Rise Despite Friction and Fear

Yet signs of friction in different parts of the world raise questions about how long China’s winning streak can continue, and point to the challenges that Mr. Xi faces in a second term as he presses the assertive brand of foreign policy he favors.

In Australia, the government is vexed by what it sees as Beijing’s interference in domestic politics. In Europe, politicians are raising an alarm over heavy-handed trade tactics aimed at acquiring foreign technology. In Southeast Asia and Africa, there are complaints about a new era of Chinese colonialism.


Chinese workers building a bridge in Laos. Mr. Xi sees his worldwide infrastructure program, the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, as a way to win friends around the world.

Adam Dean for The New York Times

China’s ties with two regional heavyweights — Japan and India — remain strained, and Mr. Xi faces an unusually precarious situation on the Korean Peninsula, with both the North and the South defying him, one building a nuclear arsenal and the other deploying American missile defenses.

Still, in a marathon opening speech last week, Mr. Xi showed no sign of retreat and hinted at even bigger spending to vault China to world greatness: more for the military to make it a first-class fighting outfit with global reach, and more for his overseas infrastructure program, the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which he sees as a way to win friends around the world.

Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s economic reforms,” set a policy of keeping a low profile in international affairs and biding time. But more than his predecessors, Mr. Xi is abandoning that approach — and encountering pushback.

In Germany, a sharp increase in Chinese investment has prompted complaints that China is closing its markets even as it goes on a buying spree abroad, especially of valuable technology companies. Policymakers are considering options for retaliating.

There are also concerns that China is trying to divide the European Union by cultivating poorer countries like Hungary and Greece and using them to block policies supported by richer countries that hurt Beijing.

Rising powers always face resistance. But in China’s case, that pushback comes not just from the West but also from neighbors who remember the tributary system of its imperial past — or are wary of its Communist political system despite its embrace of capitalism decades ago.

Mr. Xi has made inroads in Southeast Asia, gaining influence in Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand. But improving ties with Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, have been offset by the deep popular mistrust of China in that country.


Duncan Lewis, director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, has warned of clandestine efforts to influence policy.

Mick Tsikas/European Pressphoto Agency

In Malaysia, Beijing’s investments in infrastructure have been met with accusations that the nation is selling off its sovereignty. And in Thailand, a rail project important to a new trade route from southern China has been delayed.

Even in the Philippines, where the strongman president Rodrigo Duterte has cozied up to Beijing and distanced himself from the United States, Mr. Xi has not enjoyed a complete victory. American drones and spy planes have been more decisive in Mr. Duterte’s battle against Islamic militants than the rifles donated by China.

“The quantities of arms sent are not significant compared to the amount needed by the armed forces and the police,” said Roilo Golez, a former congressman. “Five thousand rifles are very minimal and token.”

Mr. Xi has sometimes succeeded in positioning China as a responsible power by stepping up when Washington has stepped back — speaking up for globalization at Davos, or in favor of the Paris climate change accord.

“People are paying far more attention to China’s influence operations than I have seen before,” said Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

But Beijing has also struggled to sway global opinion without resorting to heavy-handed methods or threats that can be counterproductive.

In Australia, which China has sought to use as a kind of pilot zone to test methods that could be adopted in the United States and Europe, Mr. Xi has already encountered a backlash.


Mr. Xi receiving a Maori greeting during a 2014 visit to New Zealand. A Chinese official recently advised Chinese-language journalists there to coordinate coverage with state news media.

Diego Opatowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China has encouraged Chinese businessmen to give to political campaigns, recruited Chinese students to press its policies in classrooms and mobilized local Chinese-language news media.

In a thinly disguised warning this month, Australia’s intelligence chief, Duncan Lewis, described such activities as “a threat to our sovereignty, the integrity of our national institutions and the exercise of our citizens’ rights.”

Analysts say Australia has been a tempting target because China is its biggest trading partner, and it is home to large populations of Chinese immigrants and students, who provide critical financial support to its universities.

But the government is now considering new limits on campaign contributions, restrictions on foreign investments and tougher counterintelligence laws. Australia is also seeking to strengthen security ties with India and Japan.

“The Chinese party-state has overplayed its hand in trying to influence Australia’s choices,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the national security college at the Australian National University.

Concern about political interference by China is also growing in New Zealand, where a Chinese official recently advised Chinese-language journalists to coordinate coverage with China’s official press.

“I never imagined the level of instruction was that direct,” said Anne-Marie Brady, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, who recently published a research paper on Beijing’s efforts in New Zealand.

Mr. Shi, the international relations professor, said President Trump’s “negative attitude toward liberal world trade and climate change” had emboldened Mr. Xi to take a more active role on the global stage.

But he added that China’s efforts to influence opinion and policy in other countries were a natural extension of its growing stature in the world, and not just a result of Mr. Xi’s leadership. He said China has greater “financial and human resources” available now — and greater ambitions.

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