Hong Kong: Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world’s business and political elite to address the problems of globalization, without turning away from economic trends that have fueled decades of growth.
“There is no point in blaming economic globalization for the world’s problems because that is simply not the case,” Xi told the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, the first Chinese head of state to address the annual gathering in the Alpine resort town of Davos. “And that will not help to solve the problems.”
Xi used his address to mount a defence of a global economic order assailed by Western populists, such as Donald Trump, who’s set to become US president on Friday in Washington. While a surge in protectionist sentiment threatens to slow the engine of China’s decades-long boom, it also offers Xi a chance to advance his goal of shaping global economic systems.
“The history of mankind has shown us that problems are not to be feared,” Xi said. “What should concern us is the refusal to face up to the problems.”
The world’s second-largest economy represents a bastion of consistency to Davos attendees facing a string of European elections — in France, the Netherlands, Germany and possibly Italy — after the twin shocks of Trump’s victory and the UK’s Brexit vote. Such “extreme weather events” topped the list of most likely risks in the forum’s annual survey this year.
Xi used his speech to echo recent remarks where he has advocated for a continuation of free trade policies. On Tuesday, he warned that no one would win from a trade war.
Since taking power in 2012, Xi has shown a desire to raise his profile on the world stage, addressing the United Nations in 2015 and hosting the Group of 20 nations last year. He’s touted China’s cooperation with outgoing US President Barack Obama on the Paris climate change deal — one of the multinational accords now questioned by Trump — as evidence of China’s support for sustainable global development.
Less than two weeks after Trump’s November win, Xi delivered a speech in support of free trade and globalization at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima, Peru. Trump, who is scheduled to be inaugurated in Washington on the final day of the Davos meeting, said he would withdraw from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact on his first day in office.
China remains the world’s big driver of economic growth despite its own slowdown, and was estimated to have accounted for almost 39% of global growth last year, according to the World Economic Forum.
He’s sought to leverage China’s economic strength into diplomatic clout with multinational initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and his signature “One Belt, One Road” plan to expand infrastructure along ancient trading routes to Europe. In September, Xi called for changes to international governance and advocated a bigger rule-making role for China in areas ranging from the internet to outer space.
Arthur Kroeber, Beijing-based founding partner and managing director at Gavekal Dragonomics, said it was important for Xi to be visible among the international business community at Davos, which is “the samba party for the globalization crowd.” The event also provided the president a platform to demonstrate his overseas clout back home, where Xi is preparing for a mid-term reshuffle of the party’s leadership ranks.
“It’s in Xi’s interests to take every opportunity he can and present himself as this leader who is powerful, strong and visionary, to give himself some international prestige,” said Kroeber, author of “China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know.” Xi’s appearance at Davos, which has previous been attended by China’s premiers, is “consistent with the notion that Xi is now the only major authorized spokesman for the whole country.”
Xi’s entourage includes more than 80 business executives, such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. founder Jack Ma, Dalian Wanda Group Co. chairman Wang Jianlin and Baidu Inc. president Zhang Yaqin. Huawei Technologies Co. chairwoman Sun Yafang, China Telecom Corp. chairman Yang Jie and China Poly Group Corp. chairman Xu Niansha are also on the guest list.
China set high expectations for Xi’s speech, which one top diplomat said would provide a “blueprint for the future progress of human society.” The country’s foreign ministry said the Davos trip would identify the deeper causes of sluggish world growth, present solutions and reinforce confidence in global development.
“Ready or not, China has become the de facto world leader seeking to maintain an open global economy and battle climate change,” the official China Daily said in a commentary Friday that referred to the country “as the one major power with a global outlook.” “In effect, President Xi has become the general secretary of globalization.”