Beijing accumulates points in big game against Washington

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It will be a good month for the Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping. If all goes according to plan and a Chinese spacecraft safely delivers its 2kg cargo of moon rock to Earth in about two weeks, some of the precious payload will be proudly on display in Mao Zedong’s home province, the revolutionary founder of the country.

The ambition to display a small piece of moon in Hunan, possibly in rural Shaoshan County where Mao was born, was highlighted in 2019 as Chinese engineers described the mission to salvage moon rocks – a feat that has not been accomplished since the former Soviet Union did so in 1976.

“Chairman Mao said we have to reach the moon,” Wu Weiren, a senior Chinese space engineer, told reporters at the time. “We will make it happen and comfort him.”

In addition to getting closer to Mao’s lunar dream, Chinese researchers last week claimed to have builds a quantum computer which could run billions of times faster than the current generation of supercomputers. And on Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates said a Covid-19 vaccine made by Chinese state-owned Sinopharm was found to be 86% effective – the first official approval China has received.

The UAE’s announcement could pave the way for the use of Chinese vaccines in developing countries, in what would be a coup for the country where the coronavirus first appeared.

Until the UAE’s announcement, Chinese pharmaceutical companies appeared to be slipping further and further behind their Western rivals who had completed Phase 3 clinical trials, allowing the UK to launch the first official large-scale vaccination program this year. week.

China’s achievements echo the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, when the two superpowers attempted to improve each other’s scientific achievements, especially in space exploration.

Beijing’s successes also coincided with a series of bitter propaganda barrages directed largely against members of the “Five Eyes” alliance, including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. UK. But the diplomatic saved jeopardize a rare opportunity for China to stabilize its strained relations with Washington as Joe Biden prepares to take the presidency.

Zhao Lijian, China’s foremost member “Wolf warrior” diplomats, recently warned the United States and its English-speaking allies not to “tear their eyes out” – and also posted on Twitter a doctored image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child.

Moon rocks could be on permanent display in Shaoshan, Mao Zedong’s home county © Johannes Eisele / AFP via Getty

Such provocations prompted a harsh response from Jake Sullivan, choosing Joe Biden as national security adviser, who said the United States “would join our ally Australia and rally our other democracies to do so. to advance our security, our prosperity and our common values ​​”.

A week later, Mr Sullivan also criticized China’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, which has been in disarray by the enactment this year of a strict national security law in the territory. , and promised to “help the persecuted find safe refuge.” .

Ren Yi, a Chinese blogger and political commentator, recently angered fellow nationalists with an online article suggesting Beijing should scale back its approach.

“It is better for China to avoid direct confrontations with the United States and the Five Eyes for the time being,” Ren told the Financial Times. “If Beijing pulls back a bit, it will give Biden more room to deal with China’s problems.

“I’m just suggesting a few different tactics. A more moderate approach could help defuse conflicts and create a more conducive environment for Sino-US relations. “

But Mr Zhao’s bosses appear to be encouraging his belligerence, which they say is a proportionate response to the provocations carried out by the United States.

“Hostile international forces against China have suppressed China, deliberately attacked the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese political system, and forced other countries to ‘contain’ and ‘confront’ China,” Le Yucheng said. second highest official in the Beijing Foreign Ministry. Last weekend. “We cannot submit to humiliation and compromise, and we have to fight from start to finish.”

Lu Xiang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences agrees with Le that “the [Trump administration] has attacked China with frenzy since March ”, when the Covid-19 started to explode in the United States. “We just responded to the occasion when they went too far,” he said.

The Chinese government is particularly sensitive to any suggestion that it mismanaged the initial Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan. He now maintains that the virus was likely introduced to the central Chinese city by imported food, despite the lack of supporting evidence.

Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, argues that there is little Beijing can do to reverse the downward trajectory of Sino-US relations after Mr Biden is sworn in next month. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden said that Mr. Xi was “who gave“.

“The United States and its allies, in particular the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, have come to a consensus on the need to treat China as a threat,” said Professor Shi.

Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing

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