Not in 21 Months, Xi Jinping

Even as his worldwide reputation sags, Chinese President Xi Jinping isn’t likely to resume his globe-trotting diplomacy soon.

The Chinese president has remained in his protected cocoon, only communicating with international colleagues by video link and telephone.

Nobody expects Mr. Xi to attend the G20 meeting in Rome next week or the UN climate change conference in Glasgow a few days later, but Beijing hasn’t declared he won’t be there.

According to China Vitae, an analytics company that monitors Chinese officials’ movements, the epidemic disrupted Mr. Xi’s full-throttle diplomatic campaign, which included hosting 23 foreign leaders in Beijing in 2019.

Mr. Xi last visited Myanmar in January 2020 and welcomed Pakistan’s president in March. Since then, he hasn’t met any foreign leaders in person.

Mr. Xi’s return on foreign soil will be more difficult.

The world has evolved, and so has China. Mr. Xi’s reputation has risen at home, and his interests have shifted inward. Gleichzeitig, his worldwide reputation has worsened.

The Chinese leadership is not trusted globally, according to recent Pew Research Center and Gallup surveys. Fewer countries seem willing to give Mr. Xi the red-carpet treatment he has grown to anticipate in other capitals, such as a ride in Queen Elizabeth’s horse-drawn carriage and a platform to address Australia’s parliament, former Western diplomats say.

To avoid awkward inquiries from foreign colleagues, as well as demonstrations on the margins of a visit, Mr. Xi stays in China. As China’s economy slows, Mr. Xi’s capacity to brag about China’s import demand and investment strength diminishes.

“The world has changed, but China is evolving too,” says Kingsley Edney, a Chinese studies professor at Leeds. “The difference will be striking when he returns,” adds Mr. Edney.

President Biden has scheduled meetings in Rome and Glasgow for his second European trip since January. Putin has resumed travel but is unlikely to attend either event.

Most of These meetings will be attended by several of the Group of 20 leaders who have left their nations this year, including Indonesian President Joko Widoti and Argentine Alberto Fernández. For example, other presidents have boycotted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over his suspected involvement in the 2018 death of writer Jamal Khashoggi, while Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has avoided meetings.

The majority of G-20 leaders received foreign guests in 2021.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on a 2 Day Visit to Nigeria

Observers believe the 68-year-old Chinese president’s 21-month absence from foreign diplomacy underscores his administration’s extraordinary caution regarding Covid-19. Neither Premier Li Keqiang nor the other five members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top leadership, have been known to go overseas, despite their hectic domestic travel itineraries.

Analysts claim that only Foreign Minister Wang Yi and top foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi have been abroad since the epidemic began. Analysts believe Mr. Xi’s goal is gaining enough support for a third term at a Communist Party conclave a year from now.

Travel before the 20th Party Congress would be restricted, according to ex-Canadian ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not reply to inquiries regarding Mr. Xi’s trip, and the Foreign Ministry refused to comment.

China won’t open its borders until February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, and outsiders won’t be allowed, so Mr. Xi won’t be receiving foreign leaders soon.

Mr. Xi’s exit has consequences. “I believe it undermines China’s soft power and message to the world,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a research professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Neil Thomas, a China expert at New York-based Eurasia Group, says Mr. Xi visited more nations and stayed overseas longer than his American predecessors. Mr. Xi has lately toured the globe from his desk, speaking bilaterally with 55 heads of state, compared to Mr. Biden’s 34.

“Beijing has made a deliberate political choice to engage in leadership diplomacy,” said Mr. Thomas, who expects Mr. Xi to continue up to where he left off.

Unlike his phone conversations, Mr. Xi’s virtual encounters with other leaders of the state have frequently been given the same degree of significance in Chinese state-run media as his previous overseas visits, according to Tin Albano, founder of China Vitae in New York. “Does a video call equal the importance of Xi Jinping traveling?” he asked.

Analysts believe Mr. Xi would certainly visit Russia first if he returns. President Xi Jinping made his first foreign trip as president to Moscow, and he returned nearly every year until the epidemic struck. Trump’s best buddy in 2019?

Analysts anticipate Mr. Xi to go to Europe and Japan to cement ties with important allies. Analysts believe poorer countries that back Beijing in UN institutions would be targeted.

For now, Mr. Xi is skipping gatherings where China has a leading role. He attended a video summit of Central Asian leaders in Tajikistan last month, and he is unlikely to join the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Senegal next month.

The importance of ordinary people witnessing the Chinese leader interact on their land has been lost, according to Mr. Edney of Leeds University.

“Having a drink in a bar with [then-UK Prime Minister] David Cameron does to some degree help to humanize a country like China, which to many people is a very alien place,” he remarked in 2015.

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