China's Xi seeks both power and friendship abroad

China's Xi seeks both power and friendship abroad
Chinese president Xi Jinping.

BEIJING - Xi Jinping has spent much of his first year as China's president greeting a stream of foreign leaders, but his government's dual message of power and peace has garnered a mixed response.

Since taking office a year ago on Friday, Xi has made trips to shore up ties with the United States and Russia, travelled around Asia, Africa and Latin America, and personally welcomed foreign dignitaries to Beijing more than 80 times, all while governing the world's most populous country.

Yet his administration's hard line on numerous territorial disputes with neighbours have frayed ties with Asia's other key economy Japan, and reinforced fears in the region and beyond that China's rise poses a threat - something it constantly denies.

The two-pronged approach is intentional. As Xi explained in a key speech on diplomacy last October, China's goals overseas are "to strive for favourable external conditions for China's reform, development and stability" and to "uphold national sovereignty".

But he faces a "fundamental contradiction" in the "attempt to both charm and go on the offensive", said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The "divergent behaviour risks undermining China's regional diplomatic strategy if continued", he said in emailed comments.

China's global interests are expanding - although it struggles to develop an overarching foreign policy - while others are keen to forge ties with the rising power.

"It's natural that countries near and far, small and large, seek to build strong ties with China," Haenle said.

At the same time, he added, "China is increasingly dependent on external trade to secure energy, resources, and food security, and thus is highly pragmatic when it comes to forging foreign relations for mutual benefit".

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