The unusual movement of protest these days in china it may be a turning point in the autocracy of the Chinese president. Xi will give his arm to twist and will partially ease the control restrictions of the pandemic, but a parallel castling of the dictatorship cannot be ruled out and that this will have repercussions on Beijing’s foreign policy.
After days of protests, the chinese government It is showing some flexibility in the measures of confinement of the population, quarantines and the suffocating practice of PCR tests to control the coronavirus. However, it does not seem that he will allow the fresh air of freedom to take advantage of this foreseeable opening and there is already greater pressure on the dissidents.
For now, at easing of sanitary measures it has been followed by the tightening of censorship to an “emergency” level, with a witch hunt of many protest participants and a greater blockade against programs that allow them to evade the Chinese authorities’ ironclad pressure on freedom of expression.
Since last weekend, the anger and frustration accumulated by Chinese citizens has been reflected in demonstrations in dozens of cities, in the biggest challenge ever Xi Jinping since he assumed the Presidency of China in 2013 and in the most important popular movement since the Tiananmen revolt in 1989.
This instability occurs in a context of economic crisis with few precedents in recent decades. It also constitutes a challenge to the all-encompassing power of Xi, re-elected last October by the Chinese Communist Party for his third term, without any internal opposition.
The US wants a weak China, but chaos in this country does not suit it
Any sign of weakness from China is welcome by USA and its acolytes in Europe and the Far East. Already in June, at the NATO Summit held in Madrid, it was made clear that Beijing constitutes a disturbing priority “challenge” for the Atlantic Alliance and its South Korean and Japanese partners, because of the trade war, industrial espionage and the increasing Chinese military empowerment in the Asia-Pacific region.
But the United States prefers to fight its battles one at a time. The last thing the White House wants right now, with the Ukraine crisis unresolved, is uncontrolled internal destabilization in China. The global economic debacle stemming from the war in Ukraine has disrupted international markets, made fuel more expensive and damaged the production of electronic components in Asia.
The conflict in Europe has no sign of ending in the short or medium term and Russia continues to be the great enemy to beat. It is the great enemy of the West with whom China maintains a good relationship that could be used at any moment to give a change of direction to the war, if Beijing wanted, with military aid or with the supply of strategic munitions to Moscow.
China less and less willing to mediate in war
But that Sino-Russian relationship could also be used to stop the conflagration and open a negotiating table, if China would try a little more in this direction. It does not seem, however, that this is going to be the intention of Beijing, since just as Washington seeks to wear Russia out on the battlefield and with the sanctions imposed after the invasion, the Chinese regime prefers a Europe weakened by the enormous expenses derived from military and economic assistance to Ukraine and a United States with its eyes more on Moscow than on Taiwan, the rebel island that China claims as its own territory.
In a sign of the growing weariness in the United States over the Ukraine contest, President Biden stated on Thursday that is willing to talk to Putin if he “decides that he is prepared to look for ways to end the war.”
The White House seems to be reaching out, perhaps under pressure from a gradual change in the attitude of the US population toward war, but China is looking the other way. And the Kremlin brings up the specter of nuclear war again. If a conventional war breaks out between NATO and Russia, “the risk of an escalation towards a nuclear conflict is very great,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned again.
This would be the right time for Xi Jinping to deploy his diplomacy around Ukraine, but it does not seem that he is up to the task. Or perhaps he prefers that the rope be tightened a little more and the West realize that he is walking on a tightrope that he himself has helped to tighten in Eastern Europe.
The “cordial enmity” between Washington and Beijing
And that relations between Washington and Beijing are not as terrible now as they were six months ago. The bad taste in China’s mouths after the NATO meeting in Madrid was somewhat refreshed by the summit between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in Bali (Indonesia) last November, within the framework of the G20. The stormy visit to Taiwan by the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and the two presidents approached positions. Even the restrictions imposed by Washington on the access of Chinese companies to American semiconductor technology, key to guaranteeing the production of all the latest generation systems manufactured in China, were waived.
The United States and China try to save face and thus maintain a “cordial enmity”. And relative, since the issue of Taiwan is a stone full of edges in the shoe of relations between the two countries. However, the moderate reaction that President Biden has had these days regarding the protests that took place in China shows that caution in the face of the enemy’s discomfort and the will not to interfere more than necessary in his internal affairs at this time.
Biden’s caution over Chinese protests contrasts with Republican animosity
Due to the caution shown by Biden or the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken (who will visit China in January possibly), some Republican Party leaders have responded with anger and demanding a greater firmness before China, as well as strong support for the protests. Senator Marco Rubio and member of the House of Representatives Chris Smith described the position of the Biden Administration as “cowardly”, whom they accused of avoiding the confrontation with Xi Jinping and failing the Chinese people.
It will be necessary to follow very carefully the changes that the Republican wing of Congress may try to bring about when it takes control of the House of Representatives in January. Although the Senate remains in Democratic hands, US foreign policy could be greatly affected by a change of course in that chamber of Congress. Republican eyes demand firmness with China and many doubt the current unconditional US support for President Volodimir Zelensky’s resistance.
To justify this caution regarding the Chinese protests, the US Republican-leaning press has not missed the opportunity to recall the business it still has in China. Hunter Bidenson of the president of the country, and the participation in the past of the head of state himself in several Chinese companies.
Hunter Biden has already been put under the Republican scrutiny on several occasions for his participation between 2014 and 2019 on the board of directors of the company Burisma Holdings, one of the largest natural gas companies in Ukraine. The Republicans have promised that when they take control of the House of Representatives they will unearth the business case of the biden family in Ukraine and China, and the possible influence of these interests on US foreign policy with Joe Biden already as president.
Pentagon reports on nuclear arms race launched by China
Despite this official condescension with Xi Jinping on the subject of the protests, the guard has not been lowered in the White House and its strategists know where to mark Beijing closely. Coinciding with the moments of greatest tension due to the demonstrations in China, which, although directed against the zero covid strategy, also question Xi’s leadership, the Pentagon has revealed its concern about the increase in Chinese military spending and for his advances in the production of atomic weapons.
A US Department of Defense report revealed this week that China already has about 400 nuclear warheadsa number that could multiply to 1,500 by the year 2035, almost equaling the number of US atomic heads.
What is surprising about these figures, according to the report, is that the Chinese nuclear arsenal has doubled in two years, since in 2020 it only had 200 nuclear warheads. It is, the report adds, the “most consequential and systemic challenge to the national security of the United States.” The document adds that China carried out a total of 135 ballistic missile tests in 2021, that is, more than those carried out by the rest of the countries in the world combined.
The head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, has already warned that, taking into account its population, its technology and its economy, China is “the only country that geopolitically has all the potential to be a significant challenge for the United States”. The US strategy is clear: the Chinese threat must be dismantled, while avoiding, if possible, chaos and a new war with unforeseeable consequences.