Xi jinping

What Xi wants in Europe

On a quiet street in Belgrade, a bronze statue of Confucius stands in front of a perforated white block, the new Chinese Cultural Centre. This is on the former site of the Chinese embassy which in 1999 was bombed by US-led Nato forces during the Kosovo war. Three Chinese nationals were killed. The Americans said the bombing was an accident, but the deaths allowed China and Serbia to share a common anti-Nato grievance. This week, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the bombing, Xi Jinping visited Belgrade and talked about the Sino-Serbian ‘bond forged with the blood of our compatriots’. He had been expected to visit the embassy

The Xi files: how China spies

Most states spy. In principle there’s nothing to stop them. But China’s demand for intelligence on the rest of the world goes far beyond anything western intelligence agencies would typically gather. It encompasses masses of commercial data and intellectual property and has been described by Keith Alexander, a former head of America’s National Security Agency, as ‘the greatest transfer of wealth in history’. As well as collecting data from government websites, parliamentarians, universities, thinktanks and human rights organisations, China also targets diaspora groups and individuals. Chinese cyber intrusions have targeted British MPs and stolen population-level data from the UK Electoral Commission database. In the US, meanwhile, Congress has just cracked

Xi Jinping is acting like Stalin

The General Secretary of China’s Communist Party is a different kind of leader. Now in his third five-year term, Xi Jinping believes that time is running out for him to secure his legacy as Mao Zedong’s true successor. He spent a decade dismantling the technocracy and politburo consensus government ushered in by Deng Xiaoping after Mao’s death, rolled back the authority of local party nomenklatura in favour of more centralised control from Beijing, and worked to subordinate China’s economy to the Communist Party’s (meaning Xi’s) political priorities. In abandoning the ‘to get rich is glorious’ social contract of the post-Tiananmen Square era, Xi has come to bury Deng and not

After his trip to Moscow, Xi Jinping still holds all the cards

After his arrival in Moscow on Monday, President Xi Jinping said that China is ready, along with Russia, ‘to stand guard over the world order based on international law’. This statement came closer than ever before to articulating his view that a normative struggle is going on between a western-dominated order, and one more suited to Beijing’s interests. As he departed yesterday, he went further: ‘Right now there are changes, the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together.’ Having positioned himself as a potential peacemaker, Xi clearly believes the war in Ukraine presents him with a win-win situation ­­­–

What Beijing wants out of the Russian invasion

52 min listen

As Xi Jinping visits Vladimir Putin in Russia this week, this episode of Chinese Whispers is returning to one of the missions of this podcast series – to look at things as the Chinese see them.  My guest today is Zhou Bo, a retired Senior Colonel of the People’s Liberation Army whose military service started in 1979. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University. He’s an eloquent and informed advocate of Beijing’s perspective. On the podcast, we discuss why China hasn’t criticised Russia more, despite its purported support for sovereignty, to what extent it really means its peace plan, and

Xi’s nuclear warnings are a coup for Scholz

Checks and balances on Vladimir Putin don’t come from inside Russia. The people around him supported forced mobilisation, pushed his plans to annex eastern Ukraine, and wanted more nuclear posturing. Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, of China and India, can do a much better job at constraining Putin. They’re the only two leaders of major powers that haven’t completely ostracised the Russian leader. He needs them to keep his struggling economy afloat. The pair are putting pressure on the Putin to avoid nuclear conflict. This morning, Xi warned Putin off using nukes for the first time, after saying in February that China and Russia’s friendship had ‘no limits’. In a joint

The US knows the main threat is China

China’s President Xi Jinping opened the CCP’s 20th party congress by doubling down on four key issues: no let up on zero-Covid; no renunciation of force when it comes to Taiwan; a promise to build up China’s military strength; and no tolerance of any opposition to his rule. As he enters his third term, the most important new challenge he has to address are the export controls announced by the US on the eve of the congress that threaten to undercut China’s ability to develop semiconductors and supercomputers. Xi remains defiant: he promised to ‘resolutely win the battle in key core technologies.’ Yet Xi must be worried that the US

How to counter China

When another country does something to upset the Chinese Communist party, it gets accused of ‘a Cold War mentality’. This is psychological projection, in Freudian terms, a defence mechanism which projects onto others the negative aspects of one’s own self. But the CCP is right in a way: we should have more of a ‘Cold War mentality’ or at least a ‘values and systems war’ mentality. China is not the Soviet Union. We never co-operated with the USSR on trade and investment or science and technology. We do with China. Indeed the CCP sees itself as fighting a ‘values and systems war’. Xi Jinping, in his first speech to the

Joe Biden has jolted China

The chip war between China and America is heating up, with an increasingly assertive Joe Biden battling with Xi Jinping as he enters his third term as Chinese leader. The US last week further restricted China’s access to advanced American know-how, in what were some of the most stringent export controls for decades. Xi didn’t mention semiconductors in a speech on Sunday marking the opening of the Communist party’s twice-a-decade congress in Beijing, but he did pledge that China would ‘resolutely win the battle in key core technologies’. To compete with the US, China will need better tech. These new export controls will make Xi’s vision much harder to achieve. Joe

How long will Xi Jinping rule China?

For some time now it has been assumed that in November the National Congress will rubber stamp Xi Jinping’s continued role as China’s supreme leader for a third five-year term, which would make Xi the first Chinese leader for a generation to serve more than two terms. Just a year ago his position as one of China’s three pre-eminent leaders was confirmed when the 400 members of the Central Committee passed the third ‘Historical Resolution’ in the Chinese Communist Party’s 100-year history. The previous two were organised by Mao in 1945 and Deng Xiaoping in 1981. The resolution highlighted the concept of ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ as a historical equivalent to

Xi Jinping and the Chinese rumour mill

The Beijing political rumour mill has gone into overdrive in recent weeks, seizing upon every nuance and reading between every line for signs of the impending downfall of ‘Xi dada’ (Big Daddy Xi). All kinds of stories are being circulated about President Xi Jinping’s health, with reports over squabbling over his likely successor. Chinese premier Li Keqiang is being tipped. The predicted replacement of Xi by Li has its roots in differences on the economy and Covid-19, so the rumours go – and there does appear to be a split of sorts. In his public pronouncements Xi has doubled down on zero-Covid above all else. He has made little mention

Is China’s zero Covid game up?

Omicron has broken through China’s Covid wall. On Tuesday, the country saw a record-high of more than 5,000 cases, the highest number since the original Wuhan outbreak. To Brits (and most people around the world), that might sound like a laughably small number – but, as you might expect, China’s zero Covid machine has jumped into action, leading to a disproportionate, severe response. In the most afflicted areas like Shenzhen and Changchun, public transport has been suspended, non-essential businesses closed, residential compounds locked down. People can leave their homes to take part in compulsory city-wide mass testing (social media is flooded with videos of lengthy unsocially-distanced queues at test sites)

Unmasking ‘panda diplomacy’

The star of the Beijing Winter Olympics wasn’t an athlete: it was Bing Dwen Dwen, the spacesuit-clad panda mascot. It was deployed to cover the harsher political edges of the games, and was romping around on the ice at the closing gala. Bing Dwen Dwen is only the latest example of China’s use of ‘panda diplomacy’, so successful over recent decades. The Chinese Communist party has long used them as envoys to potential partners. A bill now wending its way through the US Congress strikes at the heart of panda diplomacy. If it passes, it will keep American-born giant panda cubs in the US, which would break China’s monopoly on

Is an anti-Xi resistance emerging?

From the 1980s to 2017, at least every five years, China’s National Party Congress would be a moment of intriguing flux in the usually staid public politics of the Chinese Communist party. Rising stars are promoted, the old retired and, every other Congress, a new Secretary General would be appointed. Beforehand, a flurry of papers and opinion editorials would be published as various factions jostled for influence. This year’s Congress wasn’t meant to be exciting. Having abolished term limits, this is the moment when Xi Jinping is meant to be affirmed in his third term. There are few viable successors on the horizon. Nevertheless, an opening salvo in the pre-Congress war of

China breaks new records in the Surveillance Olympics

Never before have the participants in a major sporting event been so closely monitored as in this Winter Olympics in Beijing. The 1980 Summer Olympics in Soviet Moscow were nothing in comparison. Athletes are competing under a blanket of observation, ostensibly to keep Covid at bay, yet imposed by a paranoid Communist party for whom critical words or thoughts are as dangerous as any virus. Everyone attending the games, including athletes, support staff and media, must install on their phones an app, My 2022, which harvests a wide range of personal data. It has the ability to censor and track its users, according to cybersecurity experts who have examined the

China could be more dangerous than ever in 2022

Twenty twenty-two is the year that Xi Jinping plans to seize power for life, but it is not going according to script. He is retreating further into his bunker – a self-isolation that is amplifying the Communist party’s arrogance and insecurities. Challenges are mounting at home and abroad, which will make for a bumpy year in China’s growing rivalry with the West. Xi’s most immediate problem is Covid-19, where he has backed himself into an increasingly untenable ‘zero tolerance’ cul-de-sac, just as most of the rest of the world is learning to live with the virus. Just before the new year, gun-toting police in the city of Jingxi paraded four people

The rise and fall of Jack Ma

Jack Ma used to give rock star performances for his employees at Alibaba, Asia’s biggest online commerce company. He once dressed as Michael Jackson. But those halcyon days are gone. Over the last year, China’s richest man has had his wings clipped by the Chinese Communist party. The flamboyant Ma has only made a handful of public appearances (prompting rumours of a ‘disappearance’ at the hands of the CCP). This week, it transpired that Alibaba has almost halved in value — losing a record $373 billion over just the last 12 months. Ma’s downfall can be traced back to a misjudged speech he made in Shanghai this time last year.

There is no Russia-China axis

You should be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it, so the old cliché goes. In diplomacy at the moment, it seems you should be careful of the threats you prepare for, because you may end up producing them. There is a growing trend in the West towards treating Russia and China as some single, threatening ‘Dragonbear’ (a reference to the two countries’ national animals). This underrates the very real tensions between Moscow and Beijing, but risks pushing them even closer together. The most recent case in point was Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg’s interview in the Financial Times, in which he criticised ‘this whole idea that we

Xi threatens Taiwan because he’s weak

Over the weekend, China sent waves of warplanes racing towards Taiwan in numbers not seen before, forcing the democratic self-ruled island to scramble fighters and ready its air defence missiles. The United States says it is ‘very concerned’ by Beijing’s ‘provocative’ actions and reiterated Washington’s ‘rock solid’ commitment to the island. According to Taiwan’s defence ministry, 38 Chinese aircraft, including nuclear-capable bombers and J-16 fighter jets, entered its air defence identification zone on Friday, and another 39 did so again on Saturday — the largest incursion to date. Some 16 more were sent on Sunday. The air defence zone is not Taiwanese air space as such but covers the sensitive approaches

How China’s economic revolution created billionaires overnight

In the winter of 1992, the retired octogenarian Deng Xiaoping toured China’s southern coasts. From there he gave a spirited warning to his communist successors: ‘Whoever doesn’t reform will have to step down! We must let some people get rich first!’ These words were the starting-gun for the country’s opening, and its intense economic reform. In the decades since, Chinese cities have never stopped hungering for more space, with new suburbs swallowing up old villages and steel skyscrapers growing ever higher. Even taxi drivers lose their way. One sheepishly explained to me: ‘That road never used to be there.’ With the economic growth, even ordinary people became billionaires overnight, forming