China's Xi Lays Out Vision for a World Without a Single Dominant Power

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“We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world,” Mr. Xi said in a video speech at the Bo’ao Forum for Asia, an annual gathering on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.

“What we need in today’s world is justice, not hegemony. Big countries should behave in a manner befitting their status and with a greater sense of responsibility.”

Mr. Xi didn’t name the U.S. in his speech. But many of his remarks appeared to be aimed at Washington, and follow a testy meeting between the two countries’ top diplomats last month in Anchorage, Alaska.

In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Xi laid out his view of a world without a single dominant power, centered on the United Nations and other multilateral institutions—a post-Trump reaffirmation of his view of America and China as being on the same plane.

“We need to safeguard the U.N.-centered international system, preserve the international order underpinned by international law, and uphold the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core,” he said.

Mr. Xi’s multilateral vision includes two initiatives that he has spearheaded—the Belt and Road Initiative and a Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations—that place China at the center of its own multilateral grouping, ones that don’t include the U.S.

Mr. Xi said Tuesday in his speech—which used the word “civilization” six times, in a reflection of its sweeping scope—that China would host the Asian conference once the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control.

The Bo’ao conference used the Belt and Road Initiative as its theme, signaling that China doesn’t intend to pare back its ambitions for the broad Chinese global infrastructure-building program after the challenges of the past year.

Other multilateral groupings were less to Mr. Xi’s taste. The Chinese leader used an earlier speech, just days after President Biden was sworn into office in January, to warn the U.S. against preparations it was making to rally allies to challenge Beijing on a range of issues.

“To build small circles or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others, to willfully impose decoupling, supply disruption or sanctions, to create isolation or estrangement, will only push the world into division and even confrontation,” Mr. Xi said in that speech, a video address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland—the conference on which the Bo’ao Forum is modeled.

Mr. Xi picked up on the same theme in his Tuesday speech, calling for a rejection of “a new ‘Cold War’ and ideological confrontation in whatever forms.” He added that, in state-to-state relations, “mutual trust must be put front and center. Bossing others around or meddling in others’ internal affairs would not get one any support.”

Where the two countries have found common ground in recent days has been on climate change, a priority that both sides say transcends borders and geopolitical posturing.

Mr. Xi is expected to attend a virtual climate summit that Mr. Biden is hosting on Thursday and Friday, according to people familiar with the matter, though Beijing has yet to formally confirm his attendance.

Mr. Xi also used his Tuesday address to try to allay rising concerns in the West and among some of Beijing’s neighbors about his country’s rise.

“However strong it may grow, China will never seek hegemony, expansion, or a sphere of influence,” he said.

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U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry tells WSJ’s Timothy Puko that the issue of climate is “not for trade” against other critical differences the U.S. currently has with China. Photo: Rob Alcaraz/The Wall Street Journal

—Bingyan Wang contributed to this article.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at [email protected]

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