Wed | Aug 16, 2017

As US looks inward, China seeks a lead role on world stage

Published:Wednesday | January 18, 2017 | 1:00 AM
China's President Xi Jinping speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, (APr)


With the US increasingly looking inward and China eager to take a lead on the global stage, Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday cast his country as a champion of free trade and stability, a rebuke to the isolationist urges that helped carry Donald Trump to power.

Some of the elites listening in Davos, Switzerland, hailed a statesmanlike, even Barack Obama-like speech from Xi, the first Chinese head of state to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) even if it depicted a Chinese commitment to open markets that falls short of reality.

The speech, rife with metaphor and allusions to Ali Baba, Chinese proverbs and even Abraham Lincoln, highlighted a highbrow effort to make a contrast with an incoming US leader whose own words regularly stirred controversy at home and abroad and created new doubts about US leadership in the world.

"We must remain committed to promoting free trade and investment through opening up and say no to protectionism," Xi told an opening meeting of the WEF. "Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, so are light and air.

"No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war," he said.

During his campaign, Trump promised to raise tariffs on Chinese goods and declare Beijing guilty of keeping its currency artificially low. That would be a first step towards imposing sanctions. But in fact, for the past couple of years, China has been intervening in markets to prop up its currency, not push it lower.

"China has no intention to boost its trade competitiveness by devaluing the renminbi, still less will it launch a currency war," Xi said Tuesday.

Xi made no direct reference to Trump, but his vocal support for free trade could appear rich to other Western countries who have grumbled about commercial restrictions in China.