Beijing Plays ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ in Counter-Sanctions: Expert

March 30, 2021 Updated: March 31, 2021

Despite China’s boycott over Western sportswear giants, whose refusal to use Xinjiang cotton has triggered countrywide anger, on March 26, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang paid a special visit to a raw materials supplier for Nike and Adidas in Jiangsu province. One expert said that China was placating the West by “playing good cop” in the game of counter-sanctions.

On March 24, the Communist Youth League Central Committee, an affiliate of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), slammed the “wishful thinking” of the Swedish fashion brand H&M for banning cotton from the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims, while profiting from the Chinese market.

The knock-on effect was soon in motion as other foreign apparel and footwear brands such as Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Burberry, and Tommy Hilfiger followed suit, bolstering Chinese nationalists’ calls for a nationwide boycott of the brands.

However, Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Jiangsu province last Friday included a special visit to the BASF-YPC chemical plant.

BASF-YPC, a Sino-German joint venture that supplies raw materials to Nike and Adidas, sells about 3 million tons of chemicals and polymers a year to the Chinese market.

“Be successful,” the premier told the staff.

The Chinese government’s website reported on Li’s visit without mentioning the BASF-YPC factory. Yet the missing story was revealed by Weibo users.

A video on the social media platform shows Li Keqiang encouraging the employees before his departure. “Make BASF-YPC famous not only on the southeast coast but also around the world,” he said.

Current affairs commentator Li Linyi told The Epoch Times Beijing sought to placate the West through economic unification in the sanctions war.

Chinese Premier’s Role in Sanctions War

The Chinese premier is playing “good cop,” a psychological tactic to win over concessions or reverse the position of Western countries, according to Li.

On March 22, the United States, Canada, the European Union, and the UK imposed joint sanctions on Chinese officials and entities for human rights violations against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, including a travel ban and an asset freeze, which met with retaliation by the CCP.

On the evening of March 22, Beijing announced sanctions against 10 individuals and four entities on the EU side. The European Parliament then temporarily canceled a review of the China-EU Comprehensive Investment Agreement.

However, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang then unveiled a positive signal toward some European, Canadian, UK, and U.S. companies at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Li met with foreign delegates from countries through a virtual meeting during the 2021 China Development Forum. Participants included BMW CEO Oliver Zipse, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Manulife Financial President Roy Gori, Prudential CEO Michael A. Wells, and Francois Bourguignon, emeritus professor of the Paris School of Economics, according to China’s State Council website.

Li mentioned population aging during the meeting: “China’s elderly population over 60 years old has exceeded 260 million, with huge potential for multi-level demand for elderly services,” he said.

The premier ended up welcoming foreign companies to invest in senior care products and services in China.

On the other hand, the CCP announced sanctions against the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, on March 26 and 27.

The European and American countries involved in this sanctions war have been on Beijing’s economic unification list, said Li.

He said the Chinese premier was again “playing good cop” this time, by threatening the West with counter-sanctions while using economic tactics to placate and bribe them.

US-China Talks

Prior to the U.S.-China talks in Alaska, the CCP had already begun to strengthen its monetary ties with Europe and the United States.

Hours before the U.S.-China negotiations, on March 18, state-owned airline Air China announced the purchase of 18 Airbus A320noe aircraft from AFS Investments, with a total price of up to $2.24 billion, according to Reuters.

AFS Investments is a subsidiary of GECAS, an Irish-American commercial airline leasing company.

During the week of the negotiations with the United States, China’s corn purchases from the United States peaked.

Bloomberg reported on March 22 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced record sales of nearly 4 million tons of corn to China, and its soybean purchases hit the highest level in USDA data history.

“It’s interesting that the purchases happened the week of the meeting,” said John Baize, an independent agriculture trade analyst. “China wanted to send a positive signal,” he said.

“They are very good at timing things.”

According to Li, Beijing’s traditional approach has been to join political threats with economic unification, which will fail in the current climate.

An obvious sign is that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken went to Europe following the U.S.-China talks in Alaska to strengthen the alliance and restarted the dialogue in a concerted response to the CCP, according to Li.