FOR the past week China’s state media have conveyed an almost imperial choreography playing out in the Great Hall of the People, in Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leaders’ compound next to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and at Yanqi Lake just outside the capital. Every day, on television and in newspapers, President Xi Jinping (above, right) is portrayed receiving lines of grateful world leaders. And every day he is seen arranging prosperity, ordering peace or, in an agreement with Barack Obama, America’s president, (above, left) on carbon emissions, even saving the planet. It escaped no visitor that not since Mao Zedong has a Chinese leader conducted foreign affairs with such eye-catching aplomb. Yet this was not only Mr Xi’s moment, but also China’s—a diplomatic coming-out party of sorts.
On several fronts, a country known for a somewhat reactive diplomacy has made the running. China was host this week to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation—APEC, a regional trade gathering that rarely makes waves. Yet in quick succession China declared free-trade agreements with South Korea and Australia, two sizeable Asian economies, all but signed. It announced a breakthrough with America by promising at last to eliminate tariffs on information-technology products. And to the delight of Asian leaders and of Vladimir Putin, president of Russia (reviled in the West but made welcome in Beijing), Mr Xi announced $40 billion in investments to cement a new commercial “Silk Road” that will run overland through Central Asia and Russia eventually to Europe and by sea through South-East Asia to the Middle East and Africa.
Most strikingly, on November 11th Mr Xi urged APEC’s 21 members to move towards a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). The commitment to “study” the idea over the next two years is in effect to launch it, and for all that an eventual FTAAP is unlikely to be notable for its high standards, the announcement was intended to stand in contrast to the predicament of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, sponsored by America, which remains bogged down in negotiations between America and Japan despite earlier hopes of a breakthrough announcement at APEC.
On security matters, Mr Xi appeared to be making the running, too. There had been a “meeting of minds”, according to Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines, over disputed reefs in the South China Sea. Most striking, though, was an agreement for China to resume high-level contacts with Japan. China has rationed these, and in 2012 began actively challenging Japan’s control of the Senkaku islands (known as the Diaoyu islands to China) in the East China Sea; ties had been frozen entirely since Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine last December. The shrine, honouring Japan’s war dead, has militarist overtones.
Yet on November 7th China and Japan announced a four-point agreement to reduce tensions (see article). The signal agreement was later sealed when Mr Xi met Mr Abe for the first time as president. Admittedly, the withering handshake and puckery expression he offered Mr Abe lent the impression of a dog owner obliged to pick up another pooch’s turd.
That breakthrough was downplayed in state media, perhaps because Chinese ultranationalists might perceive in it a climbdown from China’s hard line over the islands, and towards Japan in general. But given much more prominence was the summit between the Chinese and American presidents, their second full one after that at Sunnylands in California in 2013. Again, there were welcome breakthroughs in co-operation. One was the agreement on information technology, which should now clear the way for a World Trade Organisation pact on IT products. Another was that both sides agreed to find common confidence-building and other measures to help avoid misunderstandings or accidental military confrontations on or above the East China Sea and South China Sea, where the United States shadows China’s increasingly assertive military presence.
But the biggest surprise was the agreement on greenhouse gases. China and America are the two biggest polluters, together accounting for 44% of global carbon emissions. Without their commitment to cut emissions, any global target is meaningless. On November 12th Mr Obama announced a “historic” agreement in which America will cut emissions by 26-28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels, while China promises its emissions will peak around 2030. It gives a big boost to getting a global deal on carbon emissions at a crucial gathering in Paris next year. For China, a huge guzzler of coal, setting a date for emissions to peak is a first, even though it is five years later than the Americans would have liked. To bring down emissions after 2030, it aims for a big growth in nuclear power and for a fifth of its electricity to come from non-fossil fuels.
via Summitry: The Chinese order | The Economist.