International images of Donald Trump, Xi Jinping take a beating
Less than four months before the US election, President Donald Trump has made his tough China policy a centrepiece of his campaign to stay in power
Less than four months before the US election, President Donald Trump has made his tough China policy a centrepiece of his campaign to stay in power. He has to do so, otherwise, face nemesis in the hands of his arch-rival Democrat Joe Biden who has also upped the ante on China and is attacking Donald Trump sharply for his alleged failure in containing China. Of course, coronavirus is always central to the debates in the US nowadays.
Here is the problem for Trump. He can only do that much (or do nothing) in tackling Covid-19 in his country as the cases keep spiralling without any control of the administration. In case of the 'Black Lives Matter" movement or 'Let me Breath' too, he could do nothing much except for aggravating the situation by sending in Federal troops. In case of his counterpart in China, Xi Jinping too, the conditions are no different. For Xi, the election is later in 2022.
As of now there is no threat to his position. It is said that he had gained people's confidence by handling the coronavirus deftly and by bringing it under control with his ruthless measures. If that is a plus point for him, there are several other factors that have become irritants for him. Foreign policy, Indo-China border row, South China Sea, Taiwan and the rise of the QUAD (comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia) are all big trouble for him. The image of China internationally is at a low even as it schemes to occupy the space vacated by the US and attempts to be the superpower. It battles trust deficit everywhere and its economic policies are coming in for greater scrutiny in big and small countries alike.
International trade is another aspect that China is worried about while domestically it might have been showing signs of improvement, credit for which again goes to Xi. While the country's 1.4 billion citizens don't get a vote, public sentiment still matters when it comes to how much support Xi can muster from senior Communist Party leaders for his indefinite rule. A crucial pillar of that support has been Xi's personification of standing "tall and firm" in the world, an image he has brandished by strongly asserting claims in the South China Sea, spending billions to upgrade military hardware and tightening Beijing's grip over Hong Kong. Xi's nationalism plank is built around a strong China wherein the barometer of strength is its influence and control of the world's nations. While that is generated nationalism that has buoyed his support, helping make Xi the country's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, it is also set China on a collision course with the rest of the world, China observers feel.
A strong leader in China is the one who could control the domestic situation through the party as well the external affairs through the country's economic might as well its military strength. It is against this backdrop that both the leaders, Trump and Xi, have snared themselves into a corner. Both of them cannot stop or do whatever they have been saying and doing and the more they do it, the more they get embroiled in the imagery they have woven further weakening them in the face of resistance. That is the real paradox.