China President Xi Jinping made a rare, unusually direct statement of rebuke against the U.S. on Monday (Mar. 6), accusing Washington of "containing and suppressing China".
Some perceive Xi's statement as an indication of the country's changing political stance, preparing for more confrontation and competition with the U.S..
Meanwhile, others viewed Xi's statement as a way to deflect the blame for China's weakening economy.
Containment and suppression
“Western countries—led by the U.S.—have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedentedly severe challenges to our country’s development,” Xi said, as reported by China state media outlet Xinhua News Agency.
This accusation marks a departure from Xi's usual refrain from directly criticising or naming the U.S. in a public setting, noted hawkish American media outlet Wall Street Journal.
Curiously, the Chinese version of his speech in state media differs from the English translation published by Xinhua, which did not make a direct reference to the U.S. or used the word "containment".
It instead quoted Xi asking government officials to “have the courage to fight as the country faces profound and complex changes in both the domestic and international landscape.”
Xi was delivering his speech at one of the country's annual "Two Sessions" which brings top political bodies and legislature in China together for major policy announcements, as well as a review of past policies.
China's new foreign minister, Qin Gang, previously expressed the same sentiment during a press conference at the "Two Sessions", saying that the U.S.'s claim to out-compete China without conflict is an attempt to "contain and suppress China in all respects".
"Bracing for more competition"
Some viewed Xi's directness as a reflection of the country's changing political stance.
According to The New York Times, Xi's direct reference to the U.S. as a hostile entity "reflects how he is bracing for more confrontation and competition between the world's two largest economies."
While his speech may be received positively by a nationalist domestic audience, it risks wariness abroad, especially at a time when China has yet to stabilise its relationship with the West.
Speaking to The New York Times, senior research fellow at Quincy Insitute for Responsible Statecraft Michael Swaine said that “this is the first time to my knowledge that Xi Jinping has publicly come out and identified the U.S. as taking such actions against China."
“It is, without doubt, a response to the harsh criticisms of China, and of Xi Jinping personally, that Biden and many in the administration have levelled in recent months,” he added.
Shifting blame on China's slowing economy
An expert who spoke to The Wall Street Journal believes that Xi's statement could be an effort to shift blame away from the policies he fronted and the slowing economy.
With Xi embarking on his third term as president and attempting to consolidate more power, he might be seeking new ways to explain the country's mounting problems, especially on the economy, Shirley Martey Hargis, a nonresident fellow at the Washington think tank Atlantic Council said to the Journal.
Previously, China announced a GDP growth target of 5 per cent in 2023, which is lower than the 5.5 per cent target for 2022.
Xi said China is facing multiple difficulties such as the epidemics and an "increasing downward pressure on the economy," Xinhua reported.
However, he encouraged the people to "stay calm, maintain resolve, pursue progress while ensuring stability, take active steps, unite as one and have the courage to fight."
He also stressed the need for a good relationship between government and business to create more jobs, increase consumption and fight international competition.
According to the Global Times, Xi's speech instilled confidence in many businessmen across the country.
It quoted Wang Yu, a member of the National Committee of the CPPCC and chairman of Spring Airlines, who commented on the economic aspects of Xi's speech, and said that it eliminates any worries among private entrepreneurs.
Read our coverage of China's Two Sessions below:
Top image via Greg Baker/Getty Images