Relations between China and the West have nosedived over recent years with increasingly bitter clashes erupting over coronavirus, trade, human rights abuses against the Uighur minority in Xingjiang province and Beijing’s confrontational stance on Taiwan, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. Experts said China’s leadership was aware of the negative views its approach created but was willing to shrug off the criticism to secure its powerful position.
Jude Blanchette, freeman chair in China studies at Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said: “I think that the overwhelming shift in global opinion on China is such that even the most insular leader couldn’t fail but recognise that there is a galvanising opinion against the country.
“This is happening not in one specific area in China, but this is happening because of Xingjiang, increasingly over the past few weeks, Tibet, we’ve got Taiwan, we’ve Hong Kong, wolf warrior diplomacy.
“This is a multi-pronged set of grievances against China so I suspect the Xi administration knows that.”
He continued: “I think the more profound and concerning implication of this though, is they don’t care.
“They are going to play their game. They’re going to play it strongly.”
US President-elect Joe Biden has yet to set out his stall on China but Japan and Australia have called for closer defence links with Washington in the Pacific region and Taiwan, seen by Beijing as a renegade province, also wants to shore up ties with the incoming White House administration after enjoying unprecedented support from Donald Trump.
But Mr Blanchette warned Beijing feels it is in the ascendancy as the US struggles with the smooth transition of power from one administration to the next.
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He said: “I suspect when they look out at the balance of power and look at the US political system and where the US has been in responding to coronavirus, this probably confirms their existing view that the United States is a declining power with deteriorating democratic institutions, and China’s on the rise.
“So I think Xi certainly thinks that time is on China’s side.”
Bonnie Glaser, director of the CSIS China Power Project said China’s international standing was low on Xi’s list of priorities.
Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who was prominent in America’s foreign policy during the Cold War, warned Mr Biden had the serious task of restoring ties with China.
Speaking on Bloomberg’s New Economy Forum, he said: “Unless there is some basis for some cooperative action, the world will slide into a catastrophe comparable to World War I.
“America and China are now drifting increasingly toward confrontation, and they’re conducting their diplomacy in a confrontational way
“The danger is that some crisis will occur that will go beyond rhetoric into actual military conflict.”