President Xi Jinping’s push to revive China’s economy at the start of his historic third term in power hinged on two sudden shifts in policy: a hasty retreat from his zero-Covid strategy and an attempt to stabilize strained ties with the US. The step of
While the former effort is well underway and will give at least one sharp boost to the world’s second-largest economy, the latter has been halted by the “spy balloon” crisis, which has led to the freezing of diplomatic contact between the world’s superpowers. threatened. And the divide deepens over advanced technology and Taiwan.
The fighting prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel his planned trip to Beijing at the last minute, which was intended to follow Xi and President Joe Biden’s constructive face-to-face meeting on the sidelines of November’s G20 summit . in Indonesia.
The balloon, which Chinese officials insist was a meteorological “unmanned airship” that inadvertently strayed into Canadian and US airspace before being shot down on Saturday inspired outrage and derision as it slowly -slowly swept across North America.
If the plane was a surveillance operation, it would raise serious concerns about decision-making at the top of China’s policy apparatus, as Xi prepares to begin his ground-breaking third term as president. Backed by a new slate of loyalists, Xi’s promotion at the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament next month would cement his position as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
The Biden administration said Chinese surveillance balloons had flown over the US only on a handful of occasions in the past six years, suggesting that last week’s alleged spy mission was either approved by Xi or relatively safe despite the risks. The rare operation was of which he was unaware, an unsettling prospect for both Washington and Beijing.
“An open question is whether Xi Jinping knew about and approved the mission, and what assumptions about its potential impact [US] relationship,” said Drew Thompson at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
“We do not know whether this reflects that the People’s Liberation Army is not coordinating politically sensitive missions with the party leadership, or whether the PLA is throwing a wrench in Xi Jinping’s attempt to lower the temperature of US-China relations. Has it been or not. ,
Any rapprochement with the US would bolster Xi’s efforts to fix China’s stalled economy, which grew just 3 percent in 2022, the second weakest reading since 1976, underscoring the cost of the zero-Covid policy that has Consumption crushed with the rolling lockdown.
Policymakers in Beijing are also grappling with declining exports and an asset crisis that has driven developers into default and plunged house prices.
At the same time, the US has stepped up efforts to influence China’s semiconductor industry in a technology war between the world’s major powers. Washington has imposed sweeping export controls to restrict China’s access to advanced chips and has rallied allies to stem the flow of components and manufacturing equipment that would allow Beijing to bolster its domestic chip manufacturing industry.
Reducing economic hostilities will ease pressure on Beijing to jumpstart growth as it reopens from the pandemic, while warming ties with Washington could help ease tensions over issues such as a potential conflict over Taiwan. over which China claims sovereignty and threatened to claim it by force.
Paul Heinle, an Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “It’s very clear [Xi] Want to keep the relationship on a better footing, at least in the near term, so they can deal with their challenges at home.”
But he said the uproar over the balloons, especially if followed by a visit to Taiwan by Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, “underscores the incredibly fragile nature of US-China relations and the potential for significant further deterioration”.
At the very least, the balloon incident would delay any bipartisan reconciliation for weeks or months — and even then, Biden’s room for maneuver would be constrained by hawkish Republicans.
Republican Senator Steve Dines of Montana called the balloons a “tremendous embarrassment to America”.
“This is another example of the weakness of the Biden administration on the global stage,” said Daines, who worked in China’s southern Guangdong province for Procter & Gamble.
Beijing faced Republican outrage, accusing the US of “overreacting” and claiming the balloon’s straying into US airspace was a “completely unexpected” accident.
On Monday, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, whom Xi has named as his next ambassador to Washington, lodged a formal protest with the US Embassy in Beijing.
Chinese analysts downplayed the long-term impact of the confrontation, which they said was likely to end, adding that Blinken’s visit was unlikely to yield concrete results even if it did go ahead.
“The balloon thing is a temporary phenomenon and it can be resolved,” said He Wenwen, a senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing and a former Chinese diplomat. “It will not have a long-term impact on China-US relations.”
“I think [Blinken] Very soon it will come to China,” said Wu Xinbo, a US expert at Fudan University in Shanghai. “Washington and Beijing had made serious preparations during the past few months for the visit to re-establish a dialogue mechanism between the two countries.”
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing