Xi Jinping is assiduously wooing other nations to gain leverage against the US.

When your biggest geopolitical rival starts mimicking your tactics, as US President Joe Biden is discovering, it is anything but flattery.
In the early days of Biden’s presidency, his foreign policy team devised a plan to deal with China “from a position of strength.” One of its key components was to build a coalition of partners to gain leverage against America’s main rival.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has clearly decided the idea is worth copying. Even as China has reportedly rebuffed US efforts to set up a call between Biden and Xi, the Chinese leader has been diligently courting many of the same partners Biden has wooed, especially European leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Beijing last week.
China has launched similar charm offensives many times before, with mixed results. This time, too, the price of success is likely to be higher than Xi is willing or able to bear.
One cannot fault the Chinese leader on effort. On March 31 alone, he sat down with the prime ministers of Spain, Singapore, and Malaysia. A few days later, the new Chinese premier, Li Qiang, met Japan’s visiting foreign minister. (Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, scheduled to visit China in late March, had to postpone his trip due to illness). Xi accorded Macron, champion of European “strategic autonomy,” a level of hospitality and attention few foreign dignitaries have received, including tea at the residence of Xi’s late father in Guangzhou.
China has also shown itself more diplomatically skillful than previously imagined, most notably by brokering the restoration of relations between Mideast rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. While China’s 12-point statement of principles for ending the war in Ukraine has gained little traction in the West, it has earned Xi some credit in the Global South as a potential peacemaker.
In those countries, though, China is playing to a ready audience. Its economic footprint is already huge, and skepticism of Biden’s division of the world into democracies and autocracies runs deep.
Xi can expect to score some gains as well in Southeast Asia. China is the largest trading partner of nearly all the countries in the region. Except for the Philippines, which recently signed an  agreement expanding access for the US military, no other country has taken any steps that might antagonize Beijing. It should not be impossible to convince these countries to remain on the fence in the Sino-US rivalry.
Economic rewards (or threats), however, won’t so easily persuade the nations China most needs to peel away from the US — its closest allies and partners.
One gaping hole in China’s new diplomatic initiative is India. While it would make sense for Xi to reach out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two countries are barely on speaking terms since a bloody clash in the Himalayas in June 2020. Reducing tensions will require substantive compromises to calm their border dispute. China appears headed in the opposite direction.
In the case of Japan and Australia, China would only be able to induce a fundamental policy shift if it addresses their concerns on vital security issues, such as Taiwan and the South China Sea. Both are non-negotiable for Xi. The best he can hope for is an improvement in atmospherics, and even such marginal improvement might require pricey concessions, such as lifting all economic sanctions on Australia or refraining from aggressive pressure tactics against Taiwan.
And Xi appears incapable of exploiting Macron’s stated desire for Europe to develop an independent position on China. The French leader left Beijing without the diplomatic trophy he desired most — a promise from Xi to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin “back to reason.” Xi would not even commit to calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Pushing Putin too hard could cause fissures in the Sino-Russian strategic partnership, which Xi sees as vital to confronting the US. China might try to revive its investment agreement with the European Union by lifting sanctions against members of the European Parliament, which must bless the pact. But it’s unlikely to go further. If Xi has to choose between Russia’s support and Europe’s, it’s clear which he sees as more critical.
Most likely, Xi will give his strategy more time to work, hoping economic inducements and more conciliatory rhetoric can gradually erode ties between the US and its friends, and put him in a more advantageous position if he and Biden meet on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in India in September or the APEC summit in San Francisco in November.
Biden’s best bet is also to remain patient. The self-imposed limits of China’s latest charm offensive will soon become apparent. In the meantime, the world is probably better off if both superpowers are busy competing for friends, not making new enemies.

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