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China’s Xi calls for ‘bridges’ amid trade, diplomatic frictions

EconomyChina’s Xi calls for ‘bridges’ amid trade, diplomatic frictions

Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized the need for building “bridges” in the global economy on Friday, as Beijing navigates economic, trade, and territorial disputes with neighbors and trading partners.

Speaking at a conference commemorating China’s guiding foreign policy principles formulated 70 years ago, Xi asserted that China, the world’s second-largest economy, remains committed to peaceful development and will not seek to dominate others. The event was attended by notable figures including Myanmar’s former president Thein Sein and Nong Duc Manh, the former general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

“Facing the history of peace or war, prosperity or unity or confrontation, more than ever before, we need to carry forward the spirit and connotation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” Xi stated. These principles were first established in a 1954 agreement with India over their Himalayan border, though Indian officials were notably absent from the front row of honored guests.

Since the 1950s, China has grown from being unrecognized by the United Nations to having the world’s largest diplomatic footprint and overseeing an $18.6-trillion economy. Beijing now seeks recognition as a diplomatic heavyweight, despite accusations of economic coercion and unfair competition from other nations.

After facilitating a detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia last year, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi indicated that China would continue to play a constructive role in global issues. However, Beijing’s neutrality on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its “no-limits partnership” with Moscow pose challenges to this ambition. China skipped a recent peace summit in Switzerland.

China’s trade relations with the European Union are strained as the EU plans to impose additional tariffs on Chinese-made electric vehicles, accusing China of flooding the market with subsidized EVs.

“In the era of economic globalisation, what we need is not to create chasms of division, but to build bridges of communication, and not raise the iron curtain of confrontation but to pave the way of cooperation,” Xi said.

“Dangerous Period”

China has softened its tone in some recent international dealings, such as freeing an Australian journalist from prison, resuming informal nuclear talks with the U.S., and agreeing to debt restructuring deals. Yet, tensions remain high with neighboring countries.

Relations with India have been tense since a deadly military confrontation on their disputed Himalayan border in June 2020. India has since restricted Chinese investments, banned popular apps, and limited passenger routes, although direct cargo flights continue.

Tensions with the Philippines have also increased over competing claims in the South China Sea, prompting U.S. officials to reaffirm their defense treaty obligations with Manila.

Zhang Weiwei, a professor of international relations at Fudan University, highlighted the success of the Five Principles in China’s relations with the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), noting that China has only used water cannons in conflicts with the Philippines, avoiding gunfire.

However, concerns remain about potential conflicts. “At the end of the day, we need a forum where people can talk, regardless of your size, your strength, your economic might, your military might,” Siddharth Chatterjee, the UN’s resident coordinator for China, told Reuters. “It is about making sure that we have dialogue, be engaged, because right now … it is a dangerous period that we’ve entered,” he added before Xi’s speech.

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