Marking the first time a Chinese head of state has attended the World Economic Forum — an annual meeting of financial and political juggernauts from around the globe — China’s President Xi Jinping gave a landmark speech in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday, in which he vehemently defended free trade and globalization.
“No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” Xi said in his near-hour-long speech. He also likened protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room” out of fear, which cuts out “light and air.”
Though he never mentioned Donald Trump, it was fairly obvious who Xi was referring to, as several news agencies have highlighted. NPR writes:
“U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, days away from his inauguration, was not in attendance in Davos, and Xi never uttered his name. But many of the Chinese president’s statements were clearly responding to rhetoric from Trump and his supporters, who have sharply rejected globalization and many existing trade deals.”
Xi said there was “no point” in blaming all the world’s problems on economic globalization, suggesting the problems that can be linked to the system are “no justification to write it off altogether.”
Reuters, noting the historic and symbolic significance of Xi’s attendance at Davos — particularly in the current geopolitical environment — summarized the situation as such:
“As Trump vows to focus on American interests, Europe is increasingly preoccupied with its own trouble, from Brexit and militant attacks to the string of elections this year in which anti-globalization populists could score gains.
“This has left a vacuum that China seems eager to fill.”
A journalist for The Telegraph wrote Xi’s speech was akin to him “throwing down the gauntlet.”
In an interview with the Washington Post, Fred Bergsten, former director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, suggested the world may very well be looking at a significant shift in global economic structure:
“If we look back five years from now, ten years from now, you could say this was a turning point, at which China did move up in the direction of asserting the kind of global leadership role that the U.S. has had for about a century and might willfully be abdicating.”
Whether or not Bergsten is correct in his assessment, at this point, it’s impossible to deny the facts as they stand — a sentiment WEF founder and chairman Klaus Schwab made sure to highlight as he welcomed the Chinese president to the stage at Davos:
“In a world marked by great uncertainty and volatility the world is looking to China.”