What China’s Xi told Davos attendees

Whenever Xi Jinping speaks, the world listens, and on January 25, 2021, China’s leader spent 25 minutes seeking to exert white-glove persuasion on virtual attendees of this year’s Davos World Economic Forum.

Davos is an invitation-only confab of political and business VIPs at a fancy Swiss ski resort, held annually, that has become an institution since it was started in the 1970s (read background story here). It’s the sort of gathering that causes private jet congestion at small airports. The presentations aren’t secret; journalists are invited. Some of the side conversations between world leaders might be private, though.

In 2021, the meeting was held virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Both Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs have just published their takes on Xi’s 2021 remarks. Foreign Policy, in a piece by Harvard China specialist Stephen M. Walt (here), said pay us money for a subscription if you want to read the article. Foreign Affairs, in a piece by Oxford China specialist Rana Mitter (here), which has a more liberal paywall policy, said

“Does China want to transform the global order to advance its own interests and to reflect its own image? That may be the most important question in geopolitics today, yet the answers it elicits tend to reveal more about modern biases than they do about what a future Chinese superpower would look like. Those who want to project forward to a malevolent, expansionist China point to evidence of aggression in Beijing’s posture today. Those with a less apocalyptic view highlight more accommodating features in Chinese policy or note that China will face plenty of challenges that will keep it from reshaping the world even if it wants to. Many Western observers see a burgeoning new Cold War, with China serving as a twenty-first-century version of the Soviet Union. Such projections are far too rigid and sweeping to usefully describe the complexity of China’s rise—either to capture the”

before saying sign up for a subscription to read the rest of the article. It’s not so much that I’m cheap, or that Messrs. Walt and Mitter don’t have anything important to say, I’m sure they do; it’s more about not wanting to pay hundreds of dollars a year to subscribe to publications I don’t have time to read. There’s already more free stuff on the internet than I can read. Yes, I know, you get what you pay for; although stuff that advertisers pay for — my preferred mode of collecting news and information — isn’t necessarily worthless (compare and contrast with commentaries based on no research and even less thought).

Here’s the official press release from Davos WEF itself, published on a New Zealand website (read about it here), which — being a press release — you can bet is sanitized cleaner than a hospital waiting room: “President Xi Jinping’s Speech At Davos Agenda Is Historic Opportunity For Collaboration.” Look, I’m not going to cut-and-paste the whole thing, and don’t have to; you can read it here. After you do, you’ll probably say, “What a load of b.s.” However, New Zealand and Australian news sources and commentaries probably won’t say that because they have a lot less ocean and airspace between them and mainland China than we do.

In general, U.S.-China relations reached a new low under Trump’s gentle hand, and most Republicans and quite a few Chinese think President Biden is a patsy whom Xi will take advantage of. In any case, Kuwait Times said in an article (here) that  “Xi warns Davos World Economic Forum against ‘new Cold War’” and I saw that in other sources, too. To flesh that out a little,

“Chinese President Xi Jinping warned global leaders at an all-virtual Davos forum yesterday against starting a ‘new Cold War’, and urged global unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Having largely curbed the spread of the pandemic within its borders, Xi wants to position China as a key player in a new multilateral world order as the US remains crippled by the pandemic.

“’To build small cliques or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others … will only push the world into division,’ said Xi in a likely veiled attack on US President Joe Biden’s plans to revitalize global alliances to counter China’s growing influence. In a swipe at moves targeting China launched by the previous US administration under President Donald Trump, Xi said confrontation ‘will always end up harming every nation’s interests and sacrificing people’s welfare’. …

“Xi also called for stronger global governance via multilateral organizations, the removal of barriers to international trade, investment and tech exchanges, as well as stronger representation on the world stage for developing countries. He stressed the importance of strengthening macroeconomic policies to combat the pandemic-induced global economic downturn. ‘We must build an open world economy, firmly safeguard the multilateral trade system, and refrain from making discriminatory and exclusive standards, rules and systems, as well as high walls that separate trade, investment, and technology,’ he said.”

Yeah, well, what country doesn’t want cooperation on its terms, and to increase its influence? As for China’s rampant theft of Western technology and intellectual property, read whatever you want into that. To me, it sounds like he wants to pick tomatoes from our garden, without paying for them. He also said this:

“The Chinese leader also reaffirmed Beijing’s ambitious climate pledges to slash carbon emissions by 65 per cent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 — both significant commitments as China emits a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases. ‘Meeting these targets will require tremendous hard work from China. But we believe that when the interests of the entire humanity are at stake, China must step forward, take action and get the job done,’ he said.”

And, finally,

“Biden, busy handling several urgent domestic crises, did not participate at Davos and tasked US climate envoy John Kerry with representing Washington.”

Kerry, of course, is President Biden’s global warming czar. So presumably Kerry and Xi have something to talk about they’re both interested in that doesn’t require mentioning Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Uighurs, or China’s military buildup.

Also, it seems to me that Trump and Xi could’ve found something to talk about on which they agree, had they tried hard enough: Neither of them likes democracy.

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