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President Biden wants to forge an “alliance of democracies.” China wants to make clear that it has alliances of its own.
Only days after a rancorous encounter with American officials in Alaska, China’s foreign minister joined his Russian counterpart last week to denounce Western meddling and sanctions.
He then headed to the Middle East to visit traditional American allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as Iran, where he signed a sweeping investment agreement on Saturday. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, reached out to Colombia one day and pledged support for North Korea on another.
Although officials denied the timing was intentional, the message clearly was. China hopes to position itself as the main challenger to an international order, led by the United States, that is generally guided by principles of democracy, respect for human rights and adherence to rule of law.
Such a system “does not represent the will of the international community,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, told Russia’s, Sergey V. Lavrov, when they met in the southern Chinese city of Guilin.
In a joint statement, they accused the United States of bullying and interference and urged it to “reflect on the damage it has done to global peace and development in recent years.”
The threat of a United States-led coalition challenging China’s authoritarian policies has only bolstered Beijing’s ambition to be a global leader of nations that oppose Washington and its allies. It shows an increasingly confident and unapologetic China, one that not only refutes American criticism of its internal affairs but that presents its own values as a model for others.
“They’re actually trying to build an argument like, ‘We’re the more responsible power. We’re not the spoilers or an axis of evil,’” John Delury, a professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, said of China’s strategy.
As result, the world is increasingly dividing into distinct if not purely ideological camps, with both China and the United States hoping to lure supporters.