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Xi's hard-line policies beyond Chinese shores are squandering Beijing's soft power, and spectacularly so. Look at the Group of Seven nations closing ranks. Last week, it called out Team Xi on everything from actions on Taiwan, incursions in cyberspace, human-rights abuses, the fallout from its Belt and Road Initiative. Same week Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, 24, received another 10-months in jail, reminding the globe of the harshness of Xi's crackdown. And as the supposedly uber-confident Xi takes aim at Australia. Last week, he suspended a ministerial economic dialogue with Canberra, with his government hitting Prime Minister Scott Morrison's for a "Cold War mindset" and "ideological discrimination."
Talk about projection. Xi's inner circle, trapped in its own geopolitical time warp, is miffed Morrison had the temerity to ask questions everyone should be asking: What exactly happened in Wuhan in late 2019 with the coronavirus? Why was a government demanding a seat at the G-7 table so maddeningly irresponsible and opaque about warning that a world-shaking crisis was afoot?
There is exactly zero racism in making these queries. Donald Trump's xenophobic vernacular was indeed racist. But at some point, the G-7, the Group of 20, the United Nations, etc., must get to the bottom of COVID-19 to reduce the odds of the devastation happening again. While Australia has put its economy in harm's way, taking one, so to speak, for the democratic team, much of the rest of Asia cowers at the thought of getting on Xi's bad side.
The biggest fear: getting South Korea-ed.Since 2017, Seoul's economy was never the same after welcoming a U.S.-designed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile-defense system. Chinese tourism flows to Korea disappeared. Department store conglomerates like Lotte saw mainland stores shuttered, while Hyundai Motor and Kia car lots went quiet. K-pop bands saw lucrative tours scrapped. Korea's biggest exporters were suddenly pivoting to the West. Xi had a once-in-lifetime opportunity that He blew up. Sure, China stepped into the Trumpian void with the 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. And Xi is selling China's 2021 recovery as an unbridled global good. But China's international image in international polls has lost ground since 2018. Surely, China sharing COVID-19 with humankind did not help.
There is a common view that Xi does not care what the world thinks. Not a great report card a year out from Xi's plan to secure yet another term. The odds are high he gets it. Yet that may just increase the odds. Biden makes the globe soft on America again.
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