President Xi Jinping offered a vigorous defence of free trade and urged the world to “say no to protectionism” at the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday.
In the first appearance by a Chinese president at the annual meeting of political leaders, chief executives and bankers in the Swiss Alps, Xi also cautioned other countries against blindly pursuing their national interests, in an apparent reference to the “America first” policies of US President-elect Donald Trump.
Real estate mogul and former reality TV star Trump, who will be inaugurated as US president on Friday, campaigned on a promise to confront China more aggressively on trade.
He has vowed to renegotiate or ditch multilateral trade agreements and protect US industries from foreign competition by levying new tariffs on goods from abroad.
Xi likened protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room” in the hopes of protecting oneself from danger, but in so doing, cutting off all “light and air.”
“No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” Xi said in a nearly hourlong speech in a massive conference hall as US Vice President Joe Biden looked on.
Xi said China 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.
Trump has criticized the deal and indicated he may pull the US out of it.
As Trump vows to focus on American interests, Europe is increasingly pre-occupied with its own troubles, from Brexit and militant attacks to the string of elections this year in which anti-globalization populists could score gains.
In his speech, Xi acknowledged that globalization had become a “Pandora’s Box,” benefiting certain segments of society while harming others.
But he said globalization was not to blame for the global financial crisis, which he attributed to an excessive pursuit of profits, nor for the flood of refugees from the Middle East, which the Chinese president said was due to conflicts in Syria and the broader region.
Xi said China’s economy had entered a “new normal” driven by household consumption. Despite a sluggish global economy, he said China’s economy was likely to have grown by 6.7 percent in 2016.
More than half a dozen senior Chinese government officials joined Xi in traveling to Davos, whereas in prior years China sent fewer officials.
“In a world marked by great uncertainty and volatility the world is looking to China,” WEF founder and Chairman Klaus Schwab said before welcoming Xi to the stage.
Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, reacting to Xi’s speech on Twitter, said: “There is a vacuum when it comes to global economic leadership, and Xi Jinping is clearly aiming to fill it. With some success.”
Ian Bremmer, president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, tweeted: “Davos reaction to Xi speech: Success on all counts. Miles away from any official Chinese speech before.”
Xi’s appearance took place at a time of rising tensions between China and Trump, who broke with decades of precedent last month by taking a congratulatory telephone call from the leader of Taiwan.
Last week Trump said that America’s “One China” policy was up for negotiation, triggering a furious response from Chinese newspapers which said China would be forced to “take off the gloves” if Trump did not change his rhetoric.
ARTICLE SOURCE: Shanghai Daily