How Xi took a wrecking ball to China’s global image

In less than six months, he has tanked the economy, created Covid-19 anger and left China isolated

President Xi Jinping has blundered his way to what is rapidly becoming a year from hell.

The general secretary of the ruling Communist Party has managed to tank the economy, create anger after a wave of Covid-19 lockdowns at home and leave China isolated abroad.

A “no limits” pact with Russia just weeks before President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has turned Beijing into an international pariah in the eyes of the United States, Europe and other major democracies.

In less than six months, Xi has managed to stumble into a geopolitical minefield of his own making.

“The zero-Covid strategy is a real mess – the populace is unhappy, the economy is crippled, and unemployment is rising alarmingly, especially among university graduates,” Johnny Erling, of the Mercator Institute for China Studies, said this week.

“And that’s not Xi’s only mistake – China is increasingly isolated in foreign policy because of its support for Russia,” he told the MERICS China Essential newsletter

Gaffe after gaffe:

  • Up to 45 Chinese cities were in lockdown by “mid-April.”
  • Economic activity slumped and unemployment soared.
  • Premier Li Keqiang has described the crisis as “complex and grave.”
  • Domestically, lockdown protests have sprung up online, overwhelming the cyber censors.
  • Internationally, Beijing’s “close relationship” with Moscow has infuriated democracies across the world.
  • Pro-Putin propaganda in China’s state-controlled media has only added to the anger.

This is all about major domestic, foreign and economic policy mistakes by [the] Party leader.

Johnny Erling, of the Mercator Institute for China Studies

Delve deeper: President Xi’s “zero-Covid” policy has seen nearly 400 million people forced into various lockdown protocols in the past two months after sporadic outbreaks of the highly-infectious Omicron strain. 

Between the lines: Low vaccination rates for the country’s elderly and the waning efficacy of domestic vaccines have shown the limitations of Beijing’s battle against the coronavirus.

Bottom line: “Xi’s response was a foregone conclusion – the zero-Covid strategy of 2020, even if it doesn’t fit today’s infection patterns [of the Omicron variant],” Erling, of the MERICS think-tank in Berlin, pointed out.  

Big picture: “This is all about major domestic, foreign and economic policy mistakes by a head of state and Party leader apparently unable to take advice,” he stressed.

Control freak: “But Xi is still in total control, there are no signs of any group or groundswell that could threaten him [at the 20th Party Congress later this year],” Erling said.

Why not? [Because] the army and police have sworn their allegiance to him,” he added.

China Factor comment: Hold that ‘Xi Thought’ for a moment.