C3S Article no: 0005/2017
The first-ever address to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos by a Chinese head of state promises to be yet another defining moment for China. President Xi Jinping’s participation at the WEF in the Swiss Alps has created unprecedented buzz in international political and business circles.
The buzz is understandable given the significance of Xi’s upcoming debut at Davos, which will be attended by the world’s political, government and business leaders including central bankers, tycoons, CEOs and celebrities from 70 countries. The prestigious economic summit is expected to draw about 3,000 participants along with representatives of 1,000 top companies.
In his opening speech at the WEF summit on this year’s theme of “Responsive and Responsible Leadership,” Xi is expected to outline China’s approach to global issues and globalization. There will be much interest in Xi’s vision of China’s role in the evolving global geopolitical structure.
Xi’s appearance on the center stage of the WEF meeting comes at a critical juncture when the world is faced with multiple challenges.
The after-effects of the financial meltdown of 2008, which found Western capitalism in a funk – with China and India alone bucking the trend and aiding to global recovery – are still unraveling. These after-effects include the continuing tide of anger against globalization, Britain’s assertion of its inward shift manifest in Brexit and America’s withdrawal from its global role underscored by its rejection of international trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It is at this point that Xi is coming on-stage to present his vision as well as ideas and perspectives in favor of greater international cooperation, development and economic engagement to help build “a human community with shared destiny.”
This is, perhaps, the context for WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab saying that he expected Xi to show how China would take a “responsive and responsible leadership role” in global affairs at a turning point in history, in a world in need of new concepts to face the future.
“President Xi’s participation is quite relevant to the theme,” said Schwab, recalling WEF’s close ties to China since his first visit there in 1979. The world, according to Schwab, is transitioning to a multi-polar geopolitical and economic structure, where China will soon equal the U.S. in terms of economic power.
China has good reasons to push for conditions that facilitate trade and unimpeded economic cooperation. First and foremost, China has emerged as the biggest beneficiary of free trade, which flourished with the removal of barriers and restrictions. China’s foreign exchange reserves are massive, estimated at around US$ 2.8 trillion. Besides this huge accumulation, in October 2016, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) added the Chinese yuan or renminbi (RMB) to the basket of currencies that make up the Special Drawing Right (SDR). This expansion of the SDR basket, by including the RMB as the fifth currency, is an outcome of opening up by international financial institutions as well as recognition of China’s role for greater international cooperation. China’s global investments are rising and Chinese overseas travelers accounted for spending of close to US$200 billion last year.
Consequently, the question uppermost in the minds of those gathering at Davos is whether China can impart a new impetus to the processes of global economic recovery that has been underway in the aftermath of the financial downturn of 2008. Alongside this will be expectations, and speculation, about China’s greater role to follow in global governance and world affairs.
Xi’s entourage of 80 top business leaders to Davos will include Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma, Baidu President Zhang Yaqin, Dalian Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin and Huawei Chairwoman Sun Yafang. The large delegation will ensure a Chinese presence in almost all the discussions at Davos. The U.S. will be represented by Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and a member of the incoming (Trump) administration’s transition team.
It may be more than symbolic that China will be rising to greater prominence on the world stage precisely at the time when Donald Trump’s inauguration signals a U.S. retreat from its global role.
(Shastri Ramachandaran is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/ShastriRamachandaran.htm Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.)