Chinese President Xi Jinping has become the first Chinese head of state to address the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He took the occasion to slam populism, skepticism of free trade agreements, and suspicion of Chinese trade practices.
“Protectionism, populism and de-globalisation are on the rise. It’s not good for closer economic cooperation globally,” Xi declared.
“No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” Xi warned, comparing protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room.” He said globalism should not be blamed for most of the world’s economic problems, and said there was “no justification to write it off altogether,” according to translations quoted by NPR.
“He said Beijing would not boost its trade competitiveness by devaluing its currency, something Trump has repeatedly said China has done in the past, and urged all signatories of a landmark climate deal in Paris last year to stick to the agreement,” Reuters writes, adding that Xi “cautioned other countries against blindly pursuing their national interests, in an apparent reference to the ‘America first’ policies of Donald Trump.”
Just about every media outlet has remarked upon the spectacle of a Chinese leader becoming the champion of global trade, while U.S. President-elect Donald Trump did not attend the forum. For example, the UK Guardian applauded Xi’s “rollicking defense of globalization that would have been unthinkable from a Chinese leader in the past,” and said many of his remarks were “aimed at one person who certainly isn’t at Davos – Donald Trump.”
Another note from the Guardian pithily described Davos without Trump as “Hamlet without the prince,” and said the new American president was “dominating proceedings” even though he wasn’t there, because the assembled globalist leaders are “worried by Trump’s protectionist rhetoric,” not to mention the way he won the 2016 election by “tapping into deep-seated anger about the unfair distribution of the spoils of economic growth.”
“There is a great need for China to step up and provide reassurance and confidence to the world on pushing ahead with globalisation,” Professor Zhang Shengjun of Beijing Normal University told the South China Morning Post.
It evidently did not occur to any of the Xi fans at Davos that if the authoritarian ruler of a repressive Communist country is the premiere spokesman for your ideology, there might just be something wrong with your ideology.
What Xi mostly demonstrated at Davos was the ability to play the globalist crowd for suckers by appealing to their intellectual vanity. China suddenly gets a free pass for every rotten thing it has done – crushing political dissent, treating its poor like disposable garbage, turning the air into a roiling brown soup of pollution – because its leaders say the “right things” about globalism and environmentalist fetishes.
A note of skepticism did seep into the latter paragraphs of these media accounts. The Guardian, for example, offered a few caveats:
Of course; these speeches are often notable for what’s missing; Xi didn’t talk about Chinese dumping of steel on European markets, the Great Firewall preventing citizens getting full access to the Internet.
And his talk about staying resolute in stormy seas won’t comfort those in the west losing their jobs, either to automation or free trade.
This was accompanied by a trenchant Tweet from former UBS chief economist George Magnus: “C’mon Twitter, you think Xi JinPing is the new champion of free trade and a liberal trading order? Big show at Davos, I know, now calm down.”
Reuters contented itself with noting that despite Xi’s portrayal of China as a “wide open” economy, “his government has come under mounting criticism from trading partners for its continued restrictions on foreign investments at a time when its state-run firms are aggressively pursuing acquisitions in Europe.“
Over at the Wall Street Journal, Xi is called out as an “ardent nationalist in the role of flag-bearer for globalization,” whose demand for “absolute state sovereignty” is at least equal to anything Donald Trump has talked about. His idea of “globalism” is not at all what most of the Davos grandees have in mind when they applaud him for defending it.
Xi’s speech at Davos was filled with facile arguments like this:
The point I want to make is that many of the problems troubling the world are not caused by economic globalization. For instance, the refugee waves from the Middle East and North Africa in recent years have become a global concern. Several million people have been displaced, and some small children lost their lives while crossing the rough sea. This is indeed heartbreaking. It is war, conflict and regional turbulence that have created this problem, and its solution lies in making peace, promoting reconciliation and restoring stability.
The international financial crisis is another example. It is not an inevitable outcome of economic globalization; rather, it is the consequence of excessive chase of profit by financial capital and grave failure of financial regulation. Just blaming economic globalization for the world’s problems is inconsistent with reality, and it will not help solve the problems.
Make peace, restore stability, and no more refugee problem? It’s so simple! Why didn’t anyone think of that before now?
China loves hectoring Europe and the United States about the refugee crisis while doing very, very little to help with the problem. No Chinese leader is ever going to allow a migration that would threaten national security and social order.
As for the international financial crisis, it was the result of bad regulation, not the absence of regulation, and many of the heavy regulations imposed in its wake have been bad news. It is no surprise to see a Chinese head of state singing the praises of authoritarian control and calling for more “global economic governance,” but China really doesn’t have anything to boast about at the moment.
Even the much-quoted line from Xi about “locking oneself in a dark room” is a facile straw-man argument, pleasing to the globalist crowd because they don’t want to engage with serious, measured criticism of their agenda. There is no serious movement to “cut off the flow of capital, technologies, products, industries, and people between economies” as Xi denounced in his speech, comparing that approach to forcing ocean waters back into “isolated lakes and creeks.”
When Xi endorses developing a “model of fair and equitable governance in keeping with the trend of the times,” he’s not talking about China becoming more like the free societies of the West. He is confident the reverse will occur, and can take some encouragement from Western elites flirting with speech and political controls similar to what China has. The Chinese government has been making war against “fake news” for a long time, and doesn’t just quietly banish disfavored websites from social media engines.
When he rails against ‘income inequality,” he is attacking capitalism, not the lavish lifestyles of Party mandarins. Some of the people applauding him in Davos are interested in banning cash money across the Western world, so that “corruption” can be more easily investigated – precisely the justification Beijing invokes for its chronic political purges.
This is not to condemn everyone in Davos, or everyone that fancies themselves a “globalist,” as aspiring dictators – although the American Left’s weird romance with Chinese authoritarianism throughout the Obama years should not be forgotten (that ideological virus has infected Canada, too.) It’s just that voters across the Western world have grown weary of the unjustified arrogance of global elites, and that opinion is not likely to be improved by the spectacle of World Economic Forum attendees swooning before the president of China.