What does Xi Jinping's third term mean for Britain?


China's President and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party has won a third term in power.

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By Max Abdulgani

Over the weekend, the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party took place in China. An annual calendar event, seemingly insignificant, but for this exception: it marked the beginning of Xi Jinping’s third term as President of China and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. In 2018, Jinping removed term limits from Chinese law. This now effectively constitutes an autocracy, and there is an increasingly authoritarian stance from China on the hierarchy that governs its people. But what does a third term mean for global relations?

Britain and China have for decades endured a cautiously optimistic relationship, not least on trade. Combining this with the adversity that has faced Britain regarding China’s shameful stance on human rights issues has created an unforeseen dilemma. Many believe Britain has been forced to choose between moral integrity on the world stage and a practical, sustainable global trading mechanism.

China inevitably holds status as the second largest economy in the world and has an undeniable reputation as the dominant manufacturer of goods, with 20 percent of all goods originating in China. It is extremely difficult, therefore, to write off China completely. Doing so would arguably backfire massively and cut off a vital part of Britain’s trading leverage. But there is also an increasingly strong case for standing against China in legitimate circumstances. When it comes to the matter of a fair, human-rights based foreign policy; it is clear that China fails the test of reason. Western cultural values and interests fall in direct contravention to the aims of the CCP and their governance over the Chinese people. Equally, however, it is important to distinguish a government from its populace.

The people of China have been imposed upon by a government of autocratic, anti-democratic means. But the situation requires a degree of cooperation with the people of China. The capacity and willingness to engage with China is necessary not simply for diplomatic purposes but for the sake of action over climate change. As the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, it holds ultimate responsibility for the future of many other countries.

In recent days, specific plans have been drawn up by China to implement a hi-tech plan. The plan comes in light of the beginning of COP 27, the keynote summit that over 100 world leaders are set to attend. The plan serves the purpose of establishing a number of green development banks backed by tax incentives and subsidised utilities. It is also designed to mitigate the effects of climate change on developing countries that don’t possess the capability to reduce emissions whilst stabilising their economy. Commitments of this scale usually require multilateral support from other developed countries such as the UK and US. Progress on negotiations have previously provided scope for optimism, but obstacles remain.

Figures in politics such as John Kerry, the Special Envoy on Climate, have recently expressed grave concerns over the lack of meaningful cooperation between China as the world’s biggest emitter and other nations over climate change. Chinese officials have been known to use a ‘wolf diplomacy’ strategy, whereby climate change is treated the same as other political issues of lesser scale. Kerry said: “Absent China, are we getting the best hope for where we want to try to go? Not in my judgement”.

Following the COP 26 Summit in Glasgow, China had promised to work more closely with world emitters such as Britain and the US to produce policy on green energy solutions, technological advancement and methane. However, negotiations between China and the rest of the world have come to a general halt since the Ukraine war. Despite the magnitude of the problem climate change poses, China is seemingly absent from the table. This has placed into doubt the future strength of diplomatic relations that transcend borders and cultural barriers.

In order for Chinese global relations to thrive, a degree of self-reflection is key. The threat it poses to Taiwan is increasingly dangerous, and a new US document on national security strategy defines Beijing as a larger threat than Moscow on the world stage. China’s hawkish approach to foreign policy, many would argue, hinders the movement for strong world diplomacy. Jinping’s leadership has shown China to be an engaged economic actor on trade, but a retreated nation state on values. In an era of bilateral cooperation for the greater good, it would be difficult to stand on the sidelines on crucial issues of human rights.

The West over time had hoped that a strong relationship on trade would constitute an integration of values too. But this hasn’t occurred. The challenge for liberal democracies and beyond is to reignite the flame of shared leadership in the interests of global security and stability. To sideline China’s significance as a global player is an impossibility, but ignoring its faults is a dangerous game to play too. Countries therefore face a balancing act, one that will only grow in importance in years to come.