Hong Kong -In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the world to "join hands to uphold the values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom shared by all of us."
After hailing China's response to the coronavirus pandemic, Xi said Beijing wants to "continue to work as a builder of global peace, a contributor to global development and a defender of international order."
It was a continuation of a role Xi has played at previous high-profile international meetings, as a defender of free trade and multilateralism, in contrast to an increasingly isolationist United States under President Donald Trump.
This is a dichotomy that has long existed, particularly as Xi has attempted to take advantage of Trump's "America First" foreign policy to assert China's dominance at international bodies like the UN.
But the rhetoric doesn't always match the facts on the ground: for all Xi's talk of free trade -- at Davos and the UN -- access to the Chinese market remains exceptionally difficult for many foreign companies. And while he may wax lyrical about world peace, under Xi, China is expanding its military and making increasingly aggressive moves in the South China Sea, in the Taiwan Strait, and along the country's Himalayan border with India.
In addition, for all Xi's apparent consensus building at the UN, the Chinese leader has shown he is unwilling to tolerate anything other than absolute loyalty at home.
Since Trump came to office, Xi has shored up control of the Communist Party, securing his rule indefinitely, and cracked down on all forms of opposition -- be it in Hong Kong, Xinjiang or within the Party itself.
This week saw the jailing of prominent Xi critic Ren Zhiqiang for 18 years. The 69-year-old property tycoon and former senior party member was convicted on a raft of corruption charges, which appeared soon after he allegedly penned an essay criticizing Xi and calling the Chinese leader a "clown."