Xi Jinping’s Campaign to Improve China’s Reputation


President Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized in the last two years the need to present China as “trustworthy, lovable and respectable” abroad, a delicate balancing act amid trying international challenges. In the last few years, China has seen an erosion of its global image and reputation, rattling even Wall Street investors due to heightened regulatory oversight of the private sector. A survey last year found 80% of respondents in the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Sweden had an unfavorable opinion of China. These views have been further fueled by recent controversies such as China’s attempts to impede inquiries into the origins of Covid-19 and its alliance with Russia prior to the latter’s military incursion into Ukraine.

Now, Beijing has launched a charm offensive to mend international ties, spearheaded by President Xi and the new premier, Li Qiang. Beijing has put forward policies to aid countries facing debt issues and leveraged its diplomatic clout by intervening in the long-standing rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Premier Li has also promised closer ties with foreign companies with the promise of a “better future” for investing in China. This move was likely intended to appease the US and other allies and to break through the entrenched skepticism from years of military clashes over Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. However, these recent efforts have been somewhat dampened by retaliatory measures such as the cybersecurity audit of US chipmaker Micron Technology and the detainment of personnel from a US firm.

One of the most-watched figures at the center of all this is Jack Ma, the iconic co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Ma has been the subject of a regulatory assault on the corporate empire he long led, staying abroad for months and only recently re-appearing in his hometown to much fanfare. This has served as a reminder of the precarious position of China’s private sector. Nonetheless, Ma recently announced that Alibaba would separate into six separate businesses, a move seen as both addressing the government’s competitive concerns and unlocking shareholders value.

It remains to be seen just how successful Beijing’s charm offensive will be in mending China’s tattered image. Ultimately, Beijing needs to prove that it is willing to act in cooperation with the rest of the world, not retribution. To demonstrate this, China must be willing to compromise on diplomatic issues, easier access to foreign technology, and a level playing field for foreign businesses. Otherwise, the charm offensive could backfire and further deepen entrenched international distrust.