President Xi left trapped in a global gray zone

He calls out the US and its partners for ‘sanctions’ strategy but fails to condemn ‘friend’ Putin for Ukraine war

At times, the gray flecks in President Xi Jinping’s hair appeared to reflect China’s tired old foreign policy.

In a keynote virtual address at the Boao Forum on the tropical island of Hainan, he talked about the risks of “de-coupling” from global supply chains and championed “multinationalism” through “cooperation.”

Xi also spoke about “respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries,” while conveniently ignoring “close” ally Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Yet in the same breath, he was quick to condemn the United States and its European and Asian partners for rolling out sanctions in a move to stop Putin’s brutal war.

“We [should reject] unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction, [as well as a] Cold War mentality … [and we should] say no to group politics and bloc confrontation,” Xi pointed out as reported by China’s state-run media on Thursday.

Reeking of hypocrisy, he called for a “global initiative” that would uphold “the principle of indivisibility of security.”

The term was poignant as it underlines the “principle” that no country can strengthen its own security at the expense of another United Nations state.

Russian President Vladimir Putin trashed that concept in late February when he launched his conflict of conquest against democratic Ukraine.

State of play:

 [China’s] imports of integrated circuits [came to] $430 billion last year, almost as much as crude oil and iron ore combined.

Derek Scissors, of the American Enterprise Institute

Delve deeper: Even before Xi’s speech, China was facing a challenging environment at home and abroad. A wave of Covid-19 outbreaks across the country has buffeted the economy while Beijing’s “no limits” pact with Moscow has become a global liability. 

Economic shockwaves: The numbers have been sluggish despite the dubious first-quarter GDP growth figure of 4.8%. Urban unemployment has climbed to 6% while business confidence has evaporated.  

Labor labyrinth: “This indicates the unemployment problem in the large cities has become more severe than when the Covid pandemic started in 2020,” Zhiwei Zhang, the chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management, told the CNN network earlier this week.

Big picture: China is battling a tangled network of supply chains and a snarl-up at container ports. At the same time, the world’s second-largest economy is having to deal with a worldwide semiconductor shortage, threatening its high-tech manufacturing industry. 

Chip and pinned: “[China’s] imports of integrated circuits [came to] $430 billion last year, almost as much as crude oil and iron ore combined. Beijing’s loud effort to become less dependent on chips has not yet worked,” Derek Scissors, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said.

Vicious circle: “Further, those chips are near the start of many supply chains, from autos to telecom, putting the PRC [the People’s Republic of China] in a broadly dependent position,” Scissors, the chief economist at research consultancy China Beige Book, wrote in a commentary for American Purpose magazine.

China Factor comment: Just like the rest of the world, Beijing is being battered by rising commodity costs, such as energy and food. But now, President Xi’s rigid support of Russia has left the country isolated on the world stage. More importantly, Xi has boxed his government into a corner by failing to find an exit strategy.