China's veiled threat of increasingly 'fractured' world

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·3-min read

Chinese President Xi Jinping has issued a thinly veiled threat to other nations, taking aim at the United States in particular as he rejected a world led by the Western superpower.

Xi’s speech at an economic forum on Tuesday (local time) comes amid rising tension with China’s neighbours and Washington, over its strategic ambitions and demands for a bigger role in making trade and other rules that shape global systems. 

He warned against a "new Cold War mentality" emerging that could see the world deeply divided into two groups. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech via video for the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference on Tuesday. Source: AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech via video for the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference on Tuesday. Source: AP

Xi critical of individual countries acting unilaterally 

There have long been concerns China and Russia's authoritarian governments could effectively split the world in two. 

“We must do everything possible to avert the great fracture and maintain a universal system, a universal economy with universal respect for international law," US Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in 2019.

While denouncing a "decoupled" world, the Chinese leader seemed to simultaneously stoke such concerns.

Without mentioning the United States, Xi criticised “unilateralism of individual countries” and warned against decoupling, a reference to fears US-Chinese tension over technology and security will split industries and markets into separate, less productive spheres with incompatible standards.

“International affairs should be handled by everyone through consultation,” he said.

“Rules made by one or more countries should not be forced upon others.”

Some of Xi’s comments were at odds with Beijing’s stepped-up military activity in the South China Sea and other areas where its territorial claims conflict with those of Japan, the Philippines, India and other countries.

“No matter how far it develops, China will never seek hegemony, expand, seek spheres of influence or engage in an arms race,” Xi claimed, in remarks that arguably differ from China's actions amid growing concerns its desire to reclaim Taiwan could spark conflict.

China’s military spending is the second-highest after the United States. Beijing is developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, submarines, stealth fighters and other weapons to extend its military reach.

The comments came at the annual Boao forum, founded in 2001, which is modelled on the Davos gathering of business leaders in Switzerland.

Despite ostensibly warning against a world decoupling, Xi has overseen Beijing's staunch promotion of its own standards for telecoms, high-speed rail and other fields and placed pressure on companies to use Chinese suppliers instead of global sources, even if that increases costs.

Warning over 'crisis' facing Australia 

Australia could face a major crisis if "Cold War" diplomatic tensions between the United States and China erupt into military conflict in Taiwan.

That's the view of Australian National University China expert Jane Golley, co-editor of China Story Yearbook 2020: Crisis, released Wednesday. 

"I realised in reading this piece that Taiwan's strategy of dual alignment resonates with the way Australia has conducted its bilateral relationships with the US and China in the past," Prof Golley will tell the National Press Club in Canberra today.

A Taiwanese soldier during a military exercise. The democratic country has vowed to fight against reabsorption into mainland China. Source: Getty
A Taiwanese soldier during a military exercise. The democratic country has vowed to fight against reabsorption into mainland China. Source: Getty

ANU's director of the Australian Centre on China in the World says the "new normal" of increasingly tense relations between western nations and Beijing.

"This new normal makes life particularly uncomfortable for two other places: Taiwan and Australia," she warns.

"As the most likely flashpoint for military conflict between the US and China, a crisis for Taiwan could easily mean a crisis for Australia too.

"And that would make the world far more uncomfortable than the Cold War I think we are already in."

with Wires

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