DAVOS, Switzerland — Three days before Donald Trump is set to be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, a world power with which he has taken an at-times adversarial approach has become the unlikely leader at the world’s most visible gathering of economic elites.
Xi Jinping on Tuesday became the first Chinese president to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“Whether you like it or not, the global economy is the big ocean you can’t escape from,” Xi said in delivering the forum’s opening plenary speech, introduced by the forum’s founder and chair, Klaus Schwab.
Xi established himself as an unlikely defender of the trade-based global order that Trump and others have dismissed on the way to electoral victories. He spoke to a crowd full of business leaders and politicians, but his message was squarely aimed at one person: Trump, who on the campaign trail excoriated China’s trade policies and threatened to slap a heavy tariff as high as 45% on Chinese imports.
“No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd.
China and Xi have taken a leading role at this year’s forum, with several of the country’s biggest business leaders — including Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Dalian Wanda’s Wang Jianlin — and many of the forum’s panels focusing on China’s evolving role in the world.
In an unusual turn of events, Xi’s speech drew a sharp rebuke to an incoming American administration that has advocated protectionist trade policies and discussed withdrawing from global climate-change agreements. He cast globalization as a solution for various problems in the world, including the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Africa. He said the financial crisis resulted not from economic globalization, but from excessive profit-chasing.
“There’s no point in blaming economic globalization for the world’s problems,” Xi said. He spent a portion of his speech directly warning against the path of protectionism, comparing it to “locking oneself in a dark room.”
“While wind and rain may be kept outside, so too are light and air,” he said.
At the same time, representation from the incoming Trump administration was virtually nonexistent at a forum of global elites that represents much of what he campaigned against during his successful presidential run.
Anthony Scaramucci, the prominent New York financier who last week accepted a top post in the White House, was set to speak later Tuesday at the forum. But he is attending in an unofficial capacity, according to event organisers. Most of the US representation at Davos remains from the Obama administration, including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Xi’s high-profile speech also came at a time of burgeoning tensions between China and the new US government. Trump infuriated Chinese leaders last month when he spoke to Taiwan’s leader, and he has continued to leave open the US’s “One China” policy, which states that both Taiwan and mainland China are both parts of a single China.
Two leading state-run newspapers threatened earlier this week that China would “take off the gloves” if Trump continued on his current path with respect to Taiwan, calling the “One China” policy non-negotiable.
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