China’s Xi wants bigger global role after Saudi-Iran deal

BEJIING (AP) — President Xi Jinping called Monday for China to play a bigger role in managing global affairs after Beijing scored a diplomatic coup as the host of talks that produced an agreement by Saudi Arabia and Iran to reopen diplomatic relations.

Xi gave no details of the ruling Communist Party’s plans in a speech to China’s ceremonial legislature. But Beijing has been increasingly assertive since he took power in 2012 and called for changes in the International Monetary Fund and other entities it says fail to reflect the desires of developing countries.

China should “actively participate in the reform and construction of the global governance system” and promote “global security initiatives,” said Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades.

That will add “positive energy to world peace and development,” Xi said.

On Friday, Xi was named to another term in the ceremonial presidency after breaking with tradition in October and awarding himself a third-five year term as general secretary of the ruling party, putting himself on track to become leader for life.

The National People’s Congress on Sunday cemented Xi’s dominance by endorsing the appointment of his loyalists as premier and other government leaders in a once-a-decade change. Xi has sidelined potential rivals and loaded the top ranks of the ruling party with his supporters.

The new premier, Li Qiang, tried Monday to reassure entrepreneurs but gave no details of possible plans to improve conditions after Xi’s government spent the past decade building up state companies that control banking, energy, steel, telecoms and other industries.

Li’s comments echoed promises by other Chinese leaders over the past six months to support entrepreneurs who generate jobs and wealth. They have vowed to simplify regulations and taxes but have given no indication they plan to rein in state companies that entrepreneurs complain drain away their profits.

The ruling party will “treat enterprises of all types of ownership equally” and “support the development and growth of private enterprises,” Li said.

“Our leading cadres at all levels must sincerely care about and serve private enterprises,” he said.

Chinese officials earlier indicated anti-monopoly and data security crackdowns that knocked tens of billions of dollars off the stock market value of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and other tech companies were ending. But entrepreneurs were rattled anew in February when a star banker who played a leading role in tech deals disappeared. Bao Fan’s company said he was “cooperating in an investigation” but gave no details.

Li said Beijing will make a priority of job creation as it tries to revive economic growth that sank to 3% last year, the second-lowest level in decades. This year’s official growth target is “around 5%.”

The premier expressed confidence China can cope as its workforce shrinks. The number of potential workers age 15 to 59 has fallen by more than 5% from its 2011 peak, an unusually abrupt decline for a middle-income country.

Li said that while China is losing its “demographic dividend” of young workers, better education means it is gaining a “talent dividend.” He said some 15 million people still enter the workforce every year.

“Abundant human resources is still China’s outstanding advantage,” he said.

Abroad, Beijing also has built on China’s growing heft as the second-largest economy to promote trade and construction initiatives that Washington, Tokyo, Moscow and New Delhi worry will expand its strategic influence at their expanse.

Those include the multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative to construct ports, railways and other trade-related infrastructure across an arc of countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa and Europe. China also is promoting trade and security initiatives.

A “Global Security Initiative” issued in February said China is “ready to conduct bilateral and multilateral security cooperation with all countries.” It offered to help African countries resolve disputes and to set up a “new security framework in the Middle East.”

Also last month, Beijing called for a cease-fire in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed Chinese involvement but said success would require action in addition to words. Beijing has refused to criticize President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine and has accused Western governments of provoking the invasion.

Xi’s government rattled the United States and Australia in early 2022 when it signed an agreement with the Solomon Islands that would allow Chinese navy ships and security forces to be stationed in the South Pacific nation.

The foreign minister, Qin Gang, warned Washington last week of possible “conflict and confrontation” if the United States doesn’t change course in relations that have been strained by conflicts over Taiwan, human rights, Hong Kong, security and technology.

Xi called Monday for faster technology development and more self-reliance in a speech loaded with nationalistic terms. He referred eight times to “national rejuvenation,” or restoring China to its rightful place as an economic, cultural and political leader.

He said that before the ruling party took power in 1949, China was “reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country, subject to bullying by foreign countries.”

“We have finally washed away the national humiliation, and Chinese people are the master of their own destiny,” Xi said. “The Chinese nation has stood up, become rich and is becoming strong.”

Xi also called for the country to “unswervingly achieve” the goal of “national reunification,” a reference to Beijing’s claim that Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy, is part of its territory and is obliged to unite with China, by force if necessary.

The president of Micronesia, a group of islands east of the Philippines, in a letter dated March 9 and obtained by The Associated Press, accused China of “political warfare.” David Panuelo said Beijing used spying and bribes in an effort to ensure Micronesia would side with China or stay neutral in a possible conflict with Taiwan.

The Chinese foreign ministry denied the allegations.

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AP writer Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed.

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