In short, Mr. Xi made it clear that China under his dictatorial rule will present an escalating threat to the democratic world and to China’s neighbors — especially Taiwan, the capture of which he termed “a historic mission and an unshakable commitment.” Former president Donald Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, often managed to make it look as if the United States were gratuitously raising tensions with China with overheated rhetoric and a misguided trade war. Mr. Xi’s speech is a reminder that his regime’s soaring ambitions, and its belligerence in pursuing them, are a genuine threat to world order, and perhaps world peace.
The arrogance of Mr. Xi’s rhetoric, laden with nationalist grievance, points to the origin of the “wolf warrior” style recently adopted by Chinese diplomats. “We have never bullied, oppressed or subjugated the people of any other country,” he insisted — words that must have been greeted with pained disbelief in Tibet or the Xinjiang region, where upward of a million Uyghurs and other Muslims have been confined to concentration camps and coerced to abandon their culture. Then came the emotional high point of the speech: “We will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress or subjugate us.” According to the official English text distributed by the foreign ministry, Mr. Xi added, “Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel.” But those who listened heard him say opponents would “have their heads bashed bloody.” As The Post’s David Crawshaw and Alicia Chen reported, the phrase was soon trending on the social media platform Weibo, unhindered by the regime’s army of censors.
That evocation of blood should be taken seriously when it comes to Taiwan. Mr. Xi, repeating a stock phrase, said the aim was “peaceful national reunification,” but he sounded more convincing in promising “resolute action to utterly defeat any attempt toward ‘Taiwan independence’”— words that resonate with China’s recent escalation of military incursions into Taiwan’s airspace. Having concentrated power and essentially declared himself a ruler-for-life, Mr. Xi appears to regard the subjugation of what is now a robust democracy as a legacy to aim for, along with the crushing of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong’s autonomy.
None of this means the United States should seek confrontation with China. But Mr. Xi’s words ought to underline that, at least under its present ruler, China will likely pose a growing menace to its neighbors, to the democratic world and to human freedom more generally.