Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Friday that Beijing will not shy away from conflict, soon after President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger former Vice President Joe Biden sought to convince Americans they would both stand up to China over the next four years.
Xi made the remarks in a speech in Beijing marking the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, in which China intervened on behalf of North Korea and fought against America, South Korean and assorted United Nations forces.
Xi—who in recent years has centralized power, dissolved term limits and become the most influential Chinese leader since Mao Zedong—said in a fiercely nationalistic address at the Great Hall of the People that China is ready for conflict and that global efforts to contain Beijing would fail.
“Seventy years ago, the imperialist invaders fired upon the doorstep of a new China,” Xi said, according to The South China Morning Post. “The Chinese people understood that you must use the language that invaders can understand—to fight war with war and to stop an invasion with force, earning peace and respect through victory.”
“The Chinese people will not create trouble but nor are we afraid of them, and no matter the difficulties or challenges we face, our legs will not shake and our backs will not bend,” he added.
In a barely-veiled jab at the U.S., Xi said that “any country and any army, no matter how powerful they used to be” would be “battered” if they went against the interests of the international community. He also stressed that the Chinese Communist Party retains “absolute leadership” over the country’s rapidly-modernizing military.
“In today’s world, any unilateralism, protectionism, and ideology of extreme self-interest are totally unworkable, and any blackmailing, blockades and extreme pressure are totally unworkable,” Xi said. “Any actions that focus only on oneself and any efforts to engage in hegemony and bullying will simply not work—not only will it not work, but it will be a dead end.”
Chinese ties with the U.S. have been deteriorating in recent years, undermined by the growing realization that much of the 21st century will likely be defined by the strategic contest between the world’s two largest economies. This has accelerated under Trump, spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic, human rights disputes, territorial tensions, and trade conflict.
There is now bipartisan consensus in Washington, D.C. that China is a problem to be addressed rather than a commercial opportunity to be exploited—a capitalism-first approach that held sway for decades and has been blamed for exporting untold numbers of manufacturing jobs, supply chains and wealth to China.
Western powers hoped—naively, according to some China-skeptic lawmakers and analysts—that interaction with the world’s market economy would encourage China to liberalize. But the CCP has used the wealth garnered from opening up its economy to entrench totalitarian rule at home, and is now pushing to secure its own spheres of dominance in Asia and further afield.
Despite his warm words about Xi, Trump’s administration has been tough on China. The president has accused Biden of being too soft on Beijing, and has accused his challenger of “selling out” the U.S. to China.
At the presidential debate in Nashville on Thursday, Biden said he would work with America’s allies to make China “play by the international rules.” Biden said Trump had cozied up to “thugs” like Xi, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We need to be having the rest of our friends with us saying to China: these are the rules,” Biden said of his plans for Beijing. “You play by them or you’re going to pay the price for not playing by them, economically.”