“External attempts to suppress and contain China may escalate at any time...We must therefore be more mindful of potential dangers, be prepared to deal with worst-case scenarios, and be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms.”
- General Secretary Xi Jinping at the opening of China’s 20th Party Congress
At a glance
During his two-hour speech to open China’s 20th Party Congress, General Secretary Xi Jinping’s messaging was clear: Party strengthening is top priority and will guide “national security” – a phrase that hit record levels of frequency in the speech as Xi emphasized self-reliance in food, energy, supply chains, technology and public health.
Reactions around the world varied, based on geographies and bilateral dynamics, but several common themes emerged:
Western countries are bracing for escalating tensions and guarding against vulnerabilities, balancing heightened competition with necessary collaboration on global imperatives.
China’s neighbors are concerned about its modernizing and more aggressive military, which may provoke instability on the Korean peninsula, more border skirmishes with India, and escalating security and trade tensions with Australia; Japan is undertaking its biggest arms buildup since World War II.
Countries in MENA and Africa were largely positive on Xi’s continued leadership, expressing optimism for deepening cooperation on trade, energy and infrastructure development.
Latin American countries varied with views on U.S.-China tensions and competition for influence in the region as either opportunity or cause for concern.
Read on for deeper takes on regional views of China's 20th Party Congress.
Views from Brussels
The day after China’s congress opened, the European Union’s Foreign Ministers gathered to discuss partnership with China on climate change and health, as well as direct competition with China on political regimes and trade.
The Foreign Affairs Council’s notes read: “The Council reconfirmed the validity of the EU's multifaceted approach on China – a partner with whom the EU must engage, a tough competitor, and a systemic rival. There is full support among EU Member States to continue engaging on issues of interest to the EU - for instance, climate change - avoiding turning dependencies into vulnerabilities. Ministers stressed that the EU needs to strengthen its internal resilience and work with international partners.”
Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, believes Western countries should take China much more seriously as an economic rival and political threat. He urged the EU to pursue competition with China rather than being heavily dependent on China, which is increasingly tightening its grasp on other states, particularly in the East Asian and African regions. Borrell used the example of how the EU must lower its dependency on Russian gas following its invasion of Ukraine. “Now we are talking about our dependency, vulnerability from Russian gas. We have to avoid creating new ones,” he said.
Several days later, the European Council Summit convened to discuss EU-China relations and almost all of the 27 EU leaders voiced growing worry overall, including:
The European Commission’s President von der Leyen stated that the EU “has to strengthen its manufacturing capabilities and diversify the supply of raw materials by relying on more reliable suppliers.”
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated that “the EU should not be dependent on authoritarian regimes on critical issues such as technology.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stressed that "it's important that Europe operates as self-confident as possible, but also independently."
The Baltic countries are also pushing for a more hardline approach to China, after years of warnings about Russia’s revanchist intentions fell on deaf ears across much of Europe.
EU Member States’ leaders concluded in agreement on the following matters:
The EU will stand firmly and upright to defend its principles, in which the EU deeply believes: democracy and fundamental freedoms.
The EU believes it must bring more reciprocity and rebalancing, particularly in economic relations between China and the European Union.
The EU believes it needs to be able to engage with China on global issues, such as climate change and health.
After the EU summit, Charles Michel, President of the European Council, stated that “there is a firm, consensual, and convergent conviction, expressed by all of the 27 European leaders, of the importance of really developing EU’s strategic autonomy, its ability to be less dependent on China and be more independent from a strategic point of view, as well as strengthen and diversify EU’s partnerships with the rest of the world.” As examples of partnerships, analysts cited the EU-African Union summit last February, and upcoming summits in Brussels with Latin American countries and ASEAN.
Meanwhile, despite the geopolitical shifts at play, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz insists that the EU must continue trade even with China. “The EU prides itself on being a union interested in global trade, and it does not side with those who promote deglobalization,” he said. This month, Scholz was the first G7 leader to visit China since the pandemic began. And while he said Germany stands ready for closer trade and economic cooperation with China, he was also more outspoken on Russia, Taiwan and Xinjiang than some might have imagined.
Views from Washington
Amid U.S. midterms, China has helped polarized politicians find common ground around “Tough on China.” Headlines in Washington echoed the negative coverage: “Xi Jinping extends rule” and “Xi consolidates power.” Coverage has largely focused on Xi’s political maneuvering to fill the ranks with his acolytes, much like headlines in other Western media.
Unique to Washington, however, were two takes, that will also affect the rest of the world:
U.S. hardline policy on China remains undeterred
China is ramping up its approach to Taiwan.
At a U.S. State Department briefing, spokesperson Ned Price reenforced U.S. commitment to strategic competition with China: “The conclusion of the party conference doesn’t change our approach [to China].” He cited Secretary Blinken’s outline of the approach in May 2022 and reiterated the administration’s focus on “responsibly managing” competition with China while cooperating where interests align and maintaining open lines of communication.
However, efforts at cooperation – around climate change, global health, counternarcotics and non proliferation – have yielded little progress amid the geopolitical rivalry.
Media outlets also reported widely on “Xi's Fiery Taiwan Rhetoric” and escalating “Cross-Strait Tensions,” which some fear could spark a hot war between the U.S. and China. “Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken [stated] that China is now operating on a ‘much faster timeline’ to annex Taiwan,” reported the New York Times.
Articles routinely mentioned Xi’s opening speech that left military engagement with Taiwan explicitly on the table: “We will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures.” Xi also emphasized military modernization, which “will enable us to…deter and manage crises and conflicts, and win local wars.”
Articles also cited delegates’ amending the Party constitution to read: “Resolutely oppose and contain ‘Taiwan independence.’” As Bloomberg reported: “China enshrined its rejection of Taiwan independence into the ruling Communist Party’s constitution, as President Xi Jinping ramps up military pressure on the self-ruled island.”
Whatever the results of U.S. midterms, U.S. policy toward China will remain undeterred from Blinken’s May outline of strategic competition and, while a Taiwan invasion may not be imminent, risk assessment and scenario planning for businesses would be prudent.
Views from APAC
One key message out of Japan was that, considering Beijing’s continuity of policy and escalating Sino-U.S. relations, Japan needs to review its alignments between the U.S. and China.
“Calls are growing in Japan for the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to reinforce the country's alliance with the United States in a bid to ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region by countering China's increasing influence,” wrote The Japan Times.
“Japan identified China as its chief adversary in its 2019 defence white paper,” wrote Reuters out of Toyko, “worried that Beijing’s flouting of international norms, pressure on Taiwan and rapid military modernisation posed a serious security threat. That anxiety has intensified since Russia invaded Ukraine.”
In response to China’s military modernization and growing heft in the region, “Japan will undertake its biggest arms buildup since World War II” before the next Party Congress in 2027.
While mainstream media in South Korea echoed much of Western media (this op-ed in The Korea Herald, for example), one take unique to the region was analysis of China’s relationship with North Korea.
So began one article in South Korea’s largest daily, The Chosun Ilbo: “Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed the importance of strengthening ‘strategic communication’ between China and North Korea.”
It continued: “China blames the U.S. and South Korea for Pyongyang's recent missile provocations and nuclear threats and blocked a UN Security Council statement denouncing them earlier this month.”
Reportedly, Xi wrote a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just days before the congress expressing that “the traditional friendship between the two countries is getting stronger with the passage of time.” The article suggests Beijing’s steadfast support for “the crackpot regime” provokes instability on the peninsula.
Despite South Korea’s harsh rhetoric, it is worth noting that the country has been the largest investor in China this past year and ships half of its semiconductor exports to China, so it must also take great care in balancing its relations in the region.
Coverage out of Australia focused on Xi securing a third term and former president Hu Jintao being escorted – or forcibly removed – from the congress. There have been no reports that Australian leadership has extended congrats to Xi.
Following the congress, Australia’s ABC News has reported on growing concerns in Australia over China’s growing influence in the Oceanic region. A new security pact between China and the Solomon Islands announced in April this year rattled Canberra. Then last week, Australia gifted rifles and vehicles to the islands’ police force, only to have China gift cars, motorcycles and water cannons in a similar ceremony two days later.
“One can reasonably wonder if the [Royal Solomon Islands Police Force] have time to wash and press their uniforms in between [China and Australia’s] gifting ceremonies,” stated former Australian diplomat Mihair Sora. “But the contest for influence is real, and not one that Australia can afford to lose.”
Views from New Delhi
Officially, there has been silence from the Government of India. Prime Minister Modi has not expressed an official reaction, nor has he sent any message of congratulations to President Xi on the re-election – in contrast to his quick congratulations to Xi on his second term in 2017. Relations between India and China have since deteriorated after a tense standoff in early 2020 along disputed border areas.
But Indian media has not been silent. Coverage of the weeklong 20th Party Congress has been extensive and prominent, and two themes underlie reactions across Indian media to Xi’s re-election:
A likelihood of China’s increased belligerence on border issues
India’s need to catchup economically and militarily.
“The rise of wolf warrior diplomats under President Xi will not allow any compromise with India on the border issue,” wrote Hindustan Times. The piece pointed out that India is the only member of the QUAD without a security alliance partnership with Washington, so Xi is likely to “create trouble” for India. “Beijing will also…use Pakistan tactically to ensure that India is kept under check through internal disturbances, religious radicalization, and terror.”
Commentary in the Indian media has focused on the implications of Xi’s third term, especially on Sino-Indian relations. Editorials and opinion pieces have warned of increased assertiveness by the Chinese in the neighborhood, continuation of the protracted border issue, and further erosion of Sino-Indian relations.
“Delhi must cope with the prospect that India’s relations with China will sink lower in Xi’s third term,” read The Indian Express. “As Xi promises to build a world class military to back his expansive geopolitical ambitions, and wants to seize claimed territories in China’s periphery, Delhi will have to work harder and a lot faster to blunt the challenge from Xi’s China to India’s interests.”
Since the skirmishes in 2020, India has banned a number of apps linked to companies based in China, and has more closely monitored investments and operations of Chinese companies in the country. If China’s belligerence on border issues does increase, further escalation is expected.
Views from MENA
Following the conclusion of China’s 20th Party Congress, media outlets in MENA reported strong relations between China and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran as well as interest in strengthening cooperation in energy, trade and stability.
The following week, Saudi and Chinese Foreign Ministers Wang Yi and Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud co-chaired a virtual meeting under the Sino-Saudi High-Level Joint Committee. The pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported the two “reviewed the strong bilateral relations between the two friendly countries, and discussed means to enhance cooperation between the Kingdom and China.” Energy remains central to bilateral ties, Arab News reported, and both sides confirmed Saudi Arabia as China’s most reliable supplier of crude oil and willingness to cooperate to stabilize the international oil market.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi officially congratulated Xi on his re-election and looks “forward to continuing cooperation...within the framework of the distinct relations that Egypt and China share.” President Sisi and President Xi met in person at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and “agreed on the importance of...strengthening mutual cooperation in the field of combatting terrorism...[and] the role played by the Suez Canal Economic Zone in promoting China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.”
Also sending his congratulations, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi noted that Iran-China cooperation would serve the interests of both nations and the world in achieving international peace and stability. “The materialization of the goals of comprehensive strategic partnership between Iran and China embodies a model of all-out expansion of relations on the basis of mutual interest and respect,” Raisi stated.
Views from Africa
Voices were largely positive from the African continentas well, with congrats from leaders and calls for more trade and investment.
A headline from Kenya’s Capital FM read: “China Assures of More Trade Opportunities With Kenya, African Countries Under New Leadership.” Ghanian Times reported: “China Committed to Opening up to Outside World.” Both articles reported positively on Xi’s speech and opportunities for collaboration between China and countries in Africa.
A recent survey across Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa by the Britain-based YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project concluded that China, the continent’s largest trading partner, is still widely seen as a force for good – though the U.S. was chosen over China as “the preferred superpower” by 77% of Nigerians, 80% of Kenyans and 59% of South Africans.
Nigeria’s The Guardian reported Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari extended his congratulations to Xi Jinping on his re-election and expressed a desire to deepen ties between Nigeria and China. “I believe that the development of infrastructure, such as railways, dams and roads construction, power generating plants, as well as trade exchanges would receive strong boost,” Buhari said.
Buhari’s statement is overshadowed by Nigeria’s current difficulties with its national infrastructure development plans. Three months prior, The Guardian reported concerns over China’s “debt-trap diplomacy” in Nigeria, calling it “a serious threat to the country’s economy as Beijing accentuates its infamous loan facilities to the African nation for investments in projects ranging from infrastructure to agriculture.”
China is increasingly mindful of fears of debt-trap diplomacy on the continent. At a Coordinators’ Meeting for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in August, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would forgive 23 interest free loans, for 17 African countries, that had matured at the end of 2021.
Views from LATAM
Two broad themes underscored reactions in Latin America:
Concerns over alignment as U.S.-China relations worsen
Satisfaction in growing trade relations with China
With tensions between the U.S. and China expected to escalate, some Latin American countries worry about the economic implications of choosing sides.
"[Latin America and Colombia] must define alignments with China, the emerging power, or continue with the United States, and think strategically about what its links with these two global players are going to be," reported Connectas, a journalist platform for the Americas. Reportedly, U.S. congresspeople recently met with Colombian President Gustavo Petro and “warned him that excessive friendship with China could be costly.”
But some see U.S.-China relations as an opportunity. El Imparcial asked: “How will Mexico's businessmen and rulers take advantage of China's increasingly deteriorated relationship with the United States and its partners?”
Indeed, outlets from several countries reported satisfaction with the trade relationship with China and anticipation of deepening ties.
"China is an ideal trade partner because it has a huge market, demands a lot of raw materials, generates loans, investment projects, etcetera. It is a new source of resources for Latin America,” said Miguel Ángel Urrego, a researcher at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo in Mexico.
In Brazil, a positive view of the trade relationship prevailed. Brazil’s Exame wrote: “The relationship with China is essentially trade based, and at this point it is going very well, breaking records during the pandemic.” China is Brazil’s largest trading partner, so any slowdown in China’s economy would also impact the Brazilian economy. But relations are reportedly positive, even amid Brazil’s own leadership changes. ‘’The state relationship between Brazil and China is quite stable. Government enters, government leaves. The bilateral relationship is very institutionalized."
Similarly, Buenos Aires reports closer ties with Beijing. Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez was quick to congratulate Xi on his third term. In February this year, Fernandez visited China – and Russia – and officially joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). After the congress, Fernandez received the President of China Railway International Group (CRIG), Bi Yanchun, to evaluate different infrastructure, energy, and technology projects to be developed in Argentina under BRI.