May 25, 2021 - World

China's centennial fervor affects its international ties

Illustration of a cake shaped like China with candles in the shape of "100".
Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

As the Chinese Communist Party's 100th anniversary draws nearer, China's domestic environment has become more focused on nationalism and hardline ideology, a trend also affecting the country's international relations.

The big picture: Beijing is broadcasting confidence and swagger, often for the benefit of domestic audiences, but other countries and international companies are feeling the effects.

  • China's leaders often tighten political restrictions around major events and anniversaries; the centennial so far has seen an exaggerated version of this response.

Taiwan: 2021 has seen big shows of force, with Beijing sending jet fighters on numerous incursions into Taiwanese airspace and holding naval drills in nearby waters.

  • "In the lead-up to the centenary of the founding of the CCP, it would be very hard to see Beijing, or Xi Jinping, giving any leeway whatsoever on issues related to national sovereignty," Russell Hsiao, executive director of the DC-based Global Taiwan Institute, told Axios.
  • But "an uncontrollable event could potentially spoil Xi Jinping’s desire to have a choreographed display of nationalism and patriotic fervor in support of the Chinese Communist Party," Hsiao said.
  • Hsiao added that Beijing isn't likely to intentionally engage in actual military hostilities during this time. "An uncontrollable escalation over Taiwan would not be in Xi’s interest."

Patriotic boycotts: In March, international brands from H&M to Hugo Boss to Adidas were targets of a state-fanned consumer boycott, as Chinese netizens expressed outrage at these companies' disavowal of Xinjiang cotton amid reports of forced labor in the cotton industry there.

EU sanctions: The Chinese government levied unprecedented sanctions on European researchers, organizations, and even members of the EU Parliament for calling out the party's repression in Xinjiang.

  • The sanctions were largely symbolic and seem to have backfired; the EU has suspended the EU-China investment treaty approved just months earlier.
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