Chinese dictator Xi Jinping addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Monday, speaking at length about the impact of the Wuhan coronavirus on the world’s economy and his vision of China’s place in the post-pandemic world.
Xi’s principal theme was a warning for the Western world to avoid a “new Cold War” with China and avoid “arrogant isolationism.”
Xi took no responsibility for unleashing the coronavirus, but he asserted that a new globalist economic order guided by Chinese leadership would emerge in the aftermath. He presented his country as the world’s leading experts on containing the virus and recovering from its economic disruptions.
“We are going through the worst recession since the end of World War Two. For the first time in history, the economies of all regions have been hit hard at the same time, with global industrial and supply chains clogged and trade and investment down in the doldrums. Despite the trillions of dollars in relief packages worldwide, global recovery is rather shaky and the outlook remains uncertain,” Xi said.
The Chinese leader called for restructuring the global economy to “jointly follow a path of peaceful coexistence, mutual benefit, and win-win cooperation.”
Xi then launched into a lengthy diatribe about the evils of judgmentalism that could be summarized as a demand to stop harassing China about its human rights abuses:
No two leaves in the world are identical, and no histories, cultures or social systems are the same. Each country is unique with its own history, culture and social system, and none is superior to the other. The best criteria are whether a country’s history, culture and social system fit its particular situation, enjoy people’s support, serve to deliver political stability, social progress and better lives, and contribute to human progress. The different histories, cultures and social systems are as old as human societies, and they are the inherent features of human civilization.
There will be no human civilization without diversity, and such diversity will continue to exist for as long as we can imagine. Difference in itself is no cause for alarm. What does ring the alarm is arrogance, prejudice and hatred; it is the attempt to impose hierarchy on human civilization or to force one’s own history, culture and social system upon others. The right choice is for countries to pursue peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect and on expanding common ground while shelving differences, and to promote exchanges and mutual learning. This is the way to add impetus to the progress of human civilization.
“To build small circles or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others, to willfully impose decoupling, supply disruption or sanctions, and to create isolation or estrangement will only push the world into division and even confrontation. We cannot tackle common challenges in a divided world, and confrontation will lead us to a dead end,” he said.
The bulk of Xi’s speech riffed on this theme, returning constantly to complaints about arrogance and “bullying” every time he touched on a subject where the rest of the world has legitimate complaints about China’s behavior. For instance, he dismissed all complaints about China’s unfair trade practices and technology theft with another warning about a new Cold War:
We should reject the outdated Cold War and zero-sum game mentality, adhere to mutual respect and accommodation, and enhance political trust through strategic communication. It is important that we stick to the cooperation concept based on mutual benefit, say no to narrow-minded, selfish beggar-thy-neighbor policies, and stop unilateral practice of keeping advantages in development all to oneself. Equal rights to development should be guaranteed for all countries to promote common development and prosperity. We should advocate fair competition, like competing with each other for excellence in a racing field, not beating each other on a wrestling arena.
Xi claimed China has built a “moderately prosperous society” after decades of effort, including “historic gains in ending extreme poverty” and steps toward “fully building a modern socialist country.”
Xi touted the assistance China has provided other countries during the pandemic and urged similar multilateral cooperation on globalization, sustainable development, climate change, technological development, and international diplomacy. In one lengthy passage of his speech, he said China will “think and act with more openness with regard to international exchange and cooperation on science and technology,” without dwelling on any lack of openness his government might have displayed thus far.
“There is only one Earth and one shared future for humanity. As we cope with the current crisis and endeavor to make a better day for everyone, we need to stand united and work together. We have been shown time and again that to beggar thy neighbor, to go it alone, and to slip into arrogant isolation will always fail. Let us all join hands and let multilateralism light our way toward a community with a shared future for mankind,” Xi concluded.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) saw Xi’s speech as “a veiled warning against the new Biden administration’s preparations to rally allies to challenge Beijing on a range of issues.”
“In urging multilateral engagement to discuss disagreements, Mr. Xi offered no initiatives to address Western criticisms of Chinese policies in such areas as trade, human rights and the military,” the WSJ noted, wondering how the speech would play in world capitals where anger still “simmers” over China’s obfuscations over the coronavirus.
The WSJ also observed that Xi’s globalist speech to the World Economic Forum was quite different from the triumphalist tone he takes in China, where he claims the pandemic indisputably proved the “superiority of the Chinese model” and has weakened the Western world enough to advance Beijing’s plans of global supremacy by several years.
CNBC reviewed Xi’s speech as a gambit to position China as “the world’s indispensable economy” and send a few warning messages to the incoming U.S. administration.
Predicting 2021 might be “more the year of Xi Jinping than of Joe Biden,” CNBC noted Xi is “leveraging the centennial of his Communist Party and China’s emergence as the first major economy to return to growth after Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] to strengthen his individual authority, to tighten the party’s unrivalled control, and to accelerate China’s rise and increased global influence through new investment and trade deals.”
“The world won’t like all of what it sees, but Chinese officials are drawing the comparison of their economic resilience and political stability in 2020 with the dramatic dysfunctions of American democracy and the reality that the pathogen China unleashed has been far less effectively managed, and thus far more damaging, in the United States,” CNBC speculated.
Xi’s call for a global reset at Davos was explicitly made on China’s terms, as he offered only the tiniest and most heavily veiled acknowledgments of his government’s misdeeds and explicitly demanded the world accept Beijing’s political narrative of the coronavirus.
The Biden administration has been noncommittal about its plans for handling China, with one notable exception so far: it has been critical of China’s human rights violations, especially with regard to the Uyghur minority. It can be no coincidence that Xi’s speech to the World Economic Forum was most forceful, and most bluntly confrontational, in rejecting the “arrogance” of Western powers presuming to judge Chinese “culture” according to their standards of basic human rights. Xi quite explicitly told the world that if it wants to do business with China, it must stop asking questions about the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, and stop criticizing how the Chinese Communist Party abuses those who challenge its power.