Davos, Switzerland – Chinese President Xi Jinping offered a defense of globalization at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, delivering a strong critique of the protectionist movement endorsed by Western leaders such as President-elect Donald Trump.
“No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” Xi said, to applause from the international audience of corporate leaders, heads of state and other dignitaries.
“It is true that economic globalization has created new problems, but this is no justification to write off economic globalization altogether,” Xi said, speaking through a translator. “We must remain committed to developing free trade and investment, promoting liberalization and facilitation through opening up, and saying no to protectionism.”
For observers in Washington, Xi’s appearance in Davos suggested a claim to the kind of international economic stewardship that Trump has rejected.
“If we look back five years from now, 10 years from now, you could say this was a turning point, at which China did move up in the direction of asserting the kind of global leadership role that the U.S. has had for about a century, and might willfully be abdicating,” said Fred Bergsten, the former director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Trump, who will be inaugurated as president in Washington on Friday, has argued that U.S interests must come first in U.S. foreign policy.
“Our plan will put America first. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” Trump said in his speech accepting the Republican nomination last year.
Xi offered what might have been a criticism of that point of view, though without mentioning Trump by name. Countries, he said, “should view their own interests in their broader context, and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.”
China was one of Trump’s chief antagonists on the stump, and the New York businessman has threatened tariffs of as much as 45 percent on goods imported from China.
Later Tuesday, Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, clarified the terms of her country’s exit from the European Union, saying Britain plans a comprehensive break with the bloc including leaving the single market and global trade pacts negotiated by Brussels. Investors sold off the pound sterling on the expectation that barriers to trade between the United Kingdom and continental Europe would reduce demand for the currency. The pound fell to $1.21, its lowest price in decades.
Speaking to international audiences, Xi typically eschews bold rhetoric, maintaining a low profile. Analysts say he and other Chinese officials are aware of the fact that any explicit pretensions to worldwide leadership could offend inflame anxieties in the United States and elsewhere.
“The Chinese have been very careful not to describe themselves as a global leader,” said Bonnie Glaser, an expert on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Xi’s speech Tuesday was characteristically measured and subdued. All the same, his themes of international cooperation and global stability offered an implicit contrast with the protectionist rhetoric expected this week from Western populist leaders.
“The subtext is that the United States and the West are no longer the stabilizing factors in the world order,” Glaser added.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Max Ehrenfreund