Why we should all be fearful of China's ambitions, says MARCO GIANNANGELI

China’s leader Xi Jinping has no time for the West

China’s leader Xi Jinping has no time for the West (Image: Getty)

An extraordinary two-minute video pushed out by Chinese embassies is the latest move in a soft power campaign aiming to curb mounting criticism against the regime's behaviour during the crisis.

The irony of claiming "immediacy" is, of course, completely lost on Beijing, which stands accused of turning a health emergency into a global pandemic by deliberately misleading the World Health Organization over the virus's capacity for human-human transmission in those first, crucial weeks in December and January.

Recent accusations by French officials that China prevented experts from overseeing safety at its first high-security laboratory in Wuhan, now said to have been where the pathogen originated, simply expose it further.

But those who take this propaganda as a sign that China is running scared over threats to its position as the nexus of the global economy are misreading its leader, Xi Jinping. Rather it is seeking to take what advantage it can from the crisis that many in the West hold it responsible for.

Certainly, Beijing knows that the appearance of legitimacy on the world stage is vital to the success of its Belt and Road initiative, which has already seen it wrap its economic tentacles around more than 70 nations in Europe, Asia and Africa.

It has made much of the aid given to the US and Europe, despite hoarding free vital equipment from countries such as the Czech Republic in early January only to sell it back now. And then there's the fact that thousands of Chinese-made masks and ventilators have been returned because they weren't fit for purpose.

China under Xi is determined to become the world’s leading economic power by any means necessary

China under Xi is determined to become the world’s leading economic power by any means necessary (Image: Getty)

During a virtual meeting of G20 leaders in March, Xi prefaced his offer to share China's experience of fighting coronavirus and cooperate in the search for a vaccine by emphasising China's commitment to "the notion of a community with a shared future for mankind". Few believe this.

There was a time when, despite the Intellectual Property theft so essential in allowing Beijing to leapfrog technological advances, real hope of reform was alive. Those days, characterised by David Cameron's kow tow era, are far behind us. The big change was the election of Xi as general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2012, leading inevitably to his role as president the following year.

His background as a chemical engineer and son of a victim of the purges in the Cultural Revolution led some to believe he would liberalise. It was a gross misjudgment.

Like Stalin, Xi's success lay in being able to work the system. He deployed his natural charisma while negotiating China's communist bureaucracy and identifying weak points to ensure victory for the Beijing faction over its previously powerful and more Western-facing Shanghai rival.

During a virtual meeting of G20 leaders in March, Xi prefaced his offer to share China's experience of fighting coronavirus

During a virtual meeting of G20 leaders in March, Xi prefaced his offer to share China's experience (Image: Getty)

Such is his cult status that Xi was even proclaimed "leader" by China's politburo, a term previously reserved only for Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong and his immediate successor Hua Guofeng.

Once in power, he fused Maoism with a new ingredient: nationalism. One hundred and fifty years of Chinese "humiliation" by the West had come to an end.

Now China under Xi is determined to become the world's leading economic power by whatever means necessary. Promises to empower independent companies were cast aside in favour of strengthening state-controlled entities.

Huawei remains, in name at least, one of the few "independent" entities at the vanguard of the BRI. But critics claim this mantle has all the strength of the toilet paper China leads the world in producing.

Just two weeks before stepping down as chairman of the Chinese technology conglomerate Alibaba in 2018 Jack Ma, a multi-millionaire described as Apple's late Steve Jobs and Amazon's Jeff Bezos rolled into one, warned that government intervention would kill innovation.

New laws introduced by Xi show why he was worried. The Military-Civil fusion strategy, announced in 2016, means that, by law, tech companies must work with the People's LiberationArmy. A 2017 National Intelligence Law obliges organisations and citizens to "support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work".

And then there is "Document No 9", a 2013 internal party communiqué which forbids the contemplation or even discussion of "seven dangers of Western values". These include the promoting of constitutional democracy, universal values, civil society and media freedom.

The hunt for short-term profit led Western conglomerates to ignore the real cost of China's cheap labour and strategically-built manufacturing sectors feeding a totalitarian and nationalist monolith which is intent on global economic domination.

Jack Ma

Jack Ma warned that government intervention would kill innovation (Image: Getty)

But eyes were already beginning to open, and Covid is likely to see the trend accelerate. Apple had begun to withdraw from China even before this crisis.

This year marks Vietnam's turn to chair the influential Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic group.

China's military ambitions in the South China Sea may come under scrutiny, and what happens if Vietnam uses the new mood to persuade members and the West to take the issue seriously?

It is all too clear that Xi will continue to use propaganda to fill the gaps while pursuing his nationalist ideals.

But while he stands still, the rest of the world may change around him.

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