Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, on January 17 (XINHUA)
China has the opportunity to play a greater role in strengthening global economic governancePresident Xi Jinping's keynote speech delivery to the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) marked the first time a Chinese president had spoken at the event. In a setting of great historical and political significance, Xi's speech was given on the 25th anniversary of former leader Deng Xiaoping embarking on his "southern tour," which pushed for economic reform and reinforced the benefits of economic development.
Xi defended economic globalization and called on all people of the world to share in its benefits. He warned against calls for greater protectionism in Europe and the United States. While his pitch did not mention then president-elect Donald Trump by name, Xi's speech could easily—and rightly—be interpreted as a rebuke of both Trump's neo-mercantilist economic policies and his criticism of China.
Xi's Davos appearance underscored China's responsibility as a leader in global economic governance. As president of the world's second largest economy, his participation is of particular political and economic importance. His engagement at the WEF, stressing China's desire to provide international economic leadership, was in clear contrast to the stance of his recently inaugurated U.S. presidential counterpart, who in many respects has scorned the idea. In short, Xi advocates trade as Trump advocates protectionism. Every time Trump criticizes China or economic globalization, the more China's role as a responsible stakeholder is emphasized.
Essentially, Xi's speech reiterated China's desire to pursue and build soft power by promoting itself as a major contributor to global economic governance. It laid out the groundwork for Chinese leadership on global economic integration. More importantly, his speech provided a striking rebuttal to what has become a steadily increasing vacuum within the world's economic leadership in the wake of anti-globalization and protectionist narratives that have arisen in the West, particularly in the United States.
One of the primary themes at the WEF was strengthening the governance of economic globalization and enhancing international collaboration. The task at hand is to build both a dynamic and inclusive system that can manage the effects of economic globalization while also assisting those who have been negatively impacted.
This formed the core message of Xi's speech: His spirited defense of economic globalization, which recognized the strategic importance of trade and commercial integration, heralds China's modern ascendancy as a great power. It also bespoke a truth: The absence of U.S. leadership has cleared the way for China to advance its vision for global economic governance, economic integration, trade, and development. This cannot be viewed as anything less than a watershed moment for China, particularly concerning its foreign policy. As WEF founder Klaus Schwab noted, Xi's presence signaled a shift away from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a more multi-polar system in which China will play a bigger role.
China's voice is crucial in developing new patterns of global economic governance and to the international order. That said, as an emerging power, in order to exert influence, China realizes that it must bear its share of responsibility. Xi's speech demonstrated China's desire to enhance its role in the construction of a newly emerging global economic governance system, noting full well that China desires a win-win outcome for the world, not by upsetting the global order, but by improving it.
Xi's WEF appearance came at an especially good time for China. As a major beneficiary of economic globalization, China has the ability as one of the world's largest economies to provide an alternative model for economic development. While Xi said there was no single viable path to making economic globalization work, he posited that the world could learn from China's "people-oriented" approach to the country's development. He also noted that economic globalization is a double-edged sword, invoking a line from an old Chinese poem, "Honey melons hang on bitter vines," meaning that economic globalization should not stop just because it has defects or victims.
A cargo train from the China (Tianjin) Pilot Free Trade Zone in the northern port city of Tianjin ready to depart to Minsk, Belarus, on November 21, 2016 (XINHUA)
China plays a vital role in the world. It is the largest trading partner for more than 130 countries and the globe's greatest economy by purchasing power parity. China's push for global economic leadership, particularly in light of launching the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Belt and Road Initiative, and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, underlines the major stake the nation has in strengthening global economic governance and enhancing international collaboration.
Leading the way on efforts devoted to promoting free trade, development, and economic globalization for mutually beneficial results validates the need for both greater global regulation and China's determination to continue its own development path while offering policy recommendations to improve the world's economic problems. As Xi remarked in Davos, "We are not jealous of others' success; and we will not complain about others who have benefited so much from the great opportunities presented by China's development. We will open our arms to the people of other countries and welcome them aboard the express train of China's development." That path should not be discounted, given that it has lifted over 700 million Chinese people out of poverty as a result of 37 years of reform and opening up.
The WEF provided China with an opportunity to stake a claim to the kind of international economic authority that Trump has rejected. As Xi stated, "We should join hands and rise to the challenge... Let us boost confidence, take actions and march arm-in-arm toward a bright future." If economic globalization and a stable international order are to be achieved, inadequate global economic governance and unequal benefits that have widened the gulf between rich and poor must be addressed and solved. As Xi observed in his speech, "This is the biggest challenge facing the world today."
A collaborative new growth model that makes the case for economic globalization as a source of prosperity by taking into account climate change, aging populations, and increased automation is the centerpiece of China's policy recommendations to reinvigorate the global economy. By relentlessly pursuing innovation, better reflecting developing country voices in global institutions, and narrowing the rich-poor divide, China has laid out a viable development plan that serves as an alternative to Western-led models. China's current challenges also make promoting economic globalization a Chinese Government priority.
As Trump repudiates trade agreements and the United States retreats from globalization, China has the chance to become a champion of free trade. China will offer trade deals not just along the Belt and Road, but to the world. Given slowing global economic growth, China has taken the lead in presenting a clear case to persevere in the pursuit of free trade rather than revert to protectionism.
Since its accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has been a staunch supporter and beneficiary of free trade. When much of the world, especially the United States and Europe, doubts economic globalization, China demonstrates its commitment to it. Xi's participation in the annual gathering of the WEF was a wise choice and will have a positive and lasting impact on global economic governance.
The author is a professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston
Copyedited by Dominic James Madar
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