Xi Jinping champions globalization at World Economic Forum

China's President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday in Davos, Switzerland. Photo: Getty Images

In a major speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Chinese President Xi Jinping positioned himself as a defender of globalization and free trade, as doubts about the merits of globalization mount in the US and elsewhere in the West.

It was the first time that a Chinese head of state has appeared at the annual meeting of political and financial powerhouses, and the speech was one that would have been "unthinkable" from former Chinese leaders.

"No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war," Xi, the leader of the world's second-biggest economy, said in the hour-long speech on Tuesday. "Pursuing protectionism is just like locking one's self in a dark room. Wind and rain may be kept outside, but so are light and air."

Xi said that there's "no point" in blaming economic globalization for the world's problems, many of which have nothing to do with global trade. And even though some problems are linked to globalization, that's "no justification to write it off altogether," the Chinese president said.

Xi stressed that China would keep its borders open, urged that all countries continued to support the 2015 Paris climate change accord and exhorted world leaders to "join hands and rise to the challenge".

US President-elect Donald Trump, days away from his inauguration, was not in attendance at Davos, and Xi never uttered his name. But many of the Chinese president's statements were clearly responding to rhetoric from Trump and his supporters, who have sharply rejected globalization and many existing trade deals, and politicians in Europe who are turning their focus inward.

Trump campaigned on a strongly protectionist platform, pledging to protect US firms from unfair overseas competition and threatening tariffs on goods from China and Mexico.

IHS Markit's chief economist, Dr Nariman Behravesh, said, "President Xi gave a very rigorous and articulate defense of globalization."

"Very importantly, he made commitments about opening China up to more imports and foreign direct investment and making sure that China's exchange rate policy didn't destabilize the global economy. All this is very encouraging."

"However, actions speak louder than words. A lot will depend on what China does. This is a good start. This is a good set of commitments on his part. It is encouraging, but we will see what the follow-through is."

China has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of globalization, which opened the way for the country, with its vast and relatively low-wage workforce, to become the world's factory floor. Inexpensive goods manufactured in China have flooded the planet.

That shift helped lift hundreds of millions of Chinese from poverty. But it was also a factor that contributed in costing millions of workers in the West their jobs, fueling mounting suspicion of transnational economic integration and the current antiestablishment backlash in politics in much of the developed world.

Xi also sought to counter fears that the US and China were heading for a currency or trade war. Beijing would keep its doors open and would not seek to drive down the value of its currency, the yuan.

WEF founder Klaus Schwab said that Xi's presence was a sign of the shift from a uni-polar world dominated by the US to a more multi-polar system in which rising powers such as China will have to step up and play a bigger role.

Li Shuo, senior global policy adviser at Greenpeace East Asia, welcomed the commitment on global warming.

"Given the current volatility of global politics, President Xi Jinping's address helped calm nerves. His reference to climate change highlights a growing sense of China's international responsibility, and the country's evolving calculus towards taking action on the issue.

"As Trump drops Obama's climate legacy, Xi might well establish one of his own. 2017 presents a real opportunity for China to rise to the challenge of responsible climate leadership. Having moved from climate villain to a reluctant leader in five short years over the first half of this decade, it's reasonable to expect China to become a true leader by its end."

Xi's speech comes as part of a state visit to Switzerland, just ahead of the Lunar New Year. Xi embraced the opportunity at Davos to show that the international community needs to pay attention to China's interests.

Related Stories
Share this page
Touched Sympathetic Bored Angry Amused Sad Happy No comment