China’s President Xi Jinping has spent just two days abroad this year, as he grapples with mounting domestic challenges. The faltering economy and rare political scandals demand his attention at home, making it difficult for democratic leaders to host him due to China’s worsening global image. The only foreign trip Xi embarked on was a border hop to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin in March. This represents the shortest amount of time he has spent overseas in the first half of a year since taking power, excluding the pandemic.
In contrast to his pre-Covid schedule, Xi used to travel more frequently and for longer durations than his US counterpart. Between 2013 and 2019, he made an average of 14 overseas trips annually, compared to US President Donald Trump’s average of 12 during his time in office. However, this year, Xi has adopted a different approach, making foreign dignitaries come to him. He has already met representatives from 36 nations, including France, Eritrea, and the US, in Beijing. This is a decrease from his pre-pandemic average, where he would host an average of 48 dignitaries annually during the same period.
Xi’s reduction in face-to-face meetings with global leaders could hinder Beijing’s ability to compete with Washington for global influence. This comes at a time when international perceptions of China are souring, as revealed by a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. The survey highlighted negative sentiments towards China’s foreign policy, such as its handling of the pandemic, alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and its refusal to condemn Putin’s war in Ukraine.
There are several reasons for Xi’s reduced international presence. Firstly, he may have more pressing domestic priorities. China’s economy is currently grappling with deflation, and there have been recent leadership changes, including the removal of his protege, Foreign Minister Qin Gang. Additionally, there have been rumors of a corruption probe involving top leaders of China’s nuclear missile force, leading to Xi’s increased presence being required to address these issues.
Another factor impacting Xi’s international engagements is scheduling. Major international summits, including the G-20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, are slated to take place in the second half of this year. Xi’s next major opportunity to host world leaders will be at the Belt and Road Initiative summit in October. However, it remains unclear who will attend, as some European nations have expressed skepticism towards the initiative.
Furthermore, China’s worsening global image has made it politically challenging for democratic leaders in the West to meet with Xi. His handling of the pandemic, alleged human rights abuses, and reluctance to condemn Putin’s actions have all damaged ties with Western nations. Before the pandemic, European guests made up a significant portion of Xi’s annual delegations, but this year, the figure has dropped to just 8%.
Despite these factors, Xi may remain confident in his status as a global figure, as he expects others to visit China instead. His upcoming presence at the Belt and Road Initiative summit, as well as the possibility of a state visit to the US, demonstrates his continued importance on the global stage.
In conclusion, President Xi Jinping’s limited international presence this year reflects the pressing domestic challenges that demand his attention. China’s worsening global image and scheduling conflicts have also played a role in reducing his engagements with world leaders. However, Xi’s confidence in his global standing remains, as he expects others to come to China to meet him.