What he said today Xi Jinping al World Economic Forum un speech designed to go down in history.
In the intention of the man who since 2012 was secretary of the Communist Party and President of the People’s Republic of China, it was to be a celebration of his country’s rise as a global superpower.
In the perception of Joe Biden’s newly installed administration in the White House, it will be read as the acceleration point of one new cold war between China and the United States.
For Biden’s America, never mentioned by name, Xi reserved one of the words most often spoken in the entire speech: Arrogance.
Inevitably by teleconference, sitting in front of a period painting depicting the mountains furrowed by the great wall, his hands resting on the table, one on top of the other, motionless in an almost unnatural way, Xi pronounced a new indictment to the public that usually meets in Davos.
The other almost exactly four years ago, when Xi made his debut at the World Economic Forum. The Chinese leader then spoke before the CEOs of the big Wall Street banks, the captains of private equity and venture capital, or the Silicon Valley tycoons after the inauguration in which Donald Trump had obsessively repeated: America first! America first !.
Then, four years ago, the Chinese leader took the opportunity to present himself as the last great standard-bearer of globalization and free trade. Like it or not, the global economy is the great ocean from which there is no escape – he said -. Any attempt to cut off the flows of capital, technology, products, industries or people and channel water into isolated lakes and streams is simply impossible. He was applauded on the open stage by the audience of Davos billionaires, as if the leader of a dictatorship that has isolated even its Internet from the rest of the world were the advocate of their interests and ideology. Four years of trade wars with Trump followed, of course.
Today another turning point, a few days after Biden took office. But this time Xi was even sharper and bolder than in 2017. Because the leader of Beijing today had two priorities: prevent and reject the strategy of the new US administration, which aims to coagulate a coalition of democracies to contain Chinese power; presenting the Beijing regime as the now recognized leader of hundreds of emerging countries and developing, in contrast – in fact – to the arrogance of Westerners. That Xi had this concern was evident from the first sentences of his speech which lasted about half an hour: We must abandon the ideological prejudice, he said in a transparent message to a Biden administration, which divides the world between democratic and authoritarian systems. No two countries are alike in the world e no superior model, because they all reflect the culture and history of each nation. Hence the Chinese leader’s tirade against the arrogance, prejudices, hatred of those who seek to establish a hierarchy in human civilization and to establish the superiority of their model over others.
Xi said that in many countries populations live in harmony and well-being according to political models different from the Western one, obviously without making any allusion to the suppression of any freedom. Hong Kong during 2020.
That of the Chinese president clearly seemed to be the psychology of the leader of a revanchist and rising power that feels unfairly discriminated against and hindered by the dominant power.
Political scientists call this situation the trap of Thucydides: the one that in the fifth century BC led to the Peloponnesian war for fear of Sparta for the emergence of the dominion of Athens. Today at the World Economic Forum, Xi did nothing to dispel the suspicion that the world is entering a new Thucydides trap, this time between China and the United States. On the contrary, it deliberately fueled the impression.
His accusations of Biden’s America, if possible, were even more precise and explicit than those Xi ever reserved for Trump. We must all commit ourselves to respecting international laws and rules, instead of pursuing supremacy – said the Chinese president -. The governance of economic globalization must be based on consensus, not on the orders of one or a few. Without this, we would go back to the law of the jungle and the consequences would be devastating for humanity (…). The strong must not behave like bullies towards the weak and multilateralism must not become the pretext for the unilateralism of some.
The answers a Biden, which proposes greater multilateralism but, in the election campaign, had defined Xi as a thug (a thug).
It matters little that Xi’s China often organized the Silk Road, its vague network of alliances, on the subjugation of many developing countries thanks to the leverage of debt: Beijing extends loans on very stringent (and often secret) conditions, therefore it imposes its will on indebted governments. Among other things, Xi today at the World Economic Forum mixed accusations against America both of a political nature and in commercial matters, where Biden does not seem to want to immediately dismantle the tariffs imposed on China by Trump.
Cold wars, hot wars, trade wars and technology wars undermine everyone’s well-being. We must break down discriminatory criteria, barriers to investment, trade and technology exchanges. Here the Beijing leader’s allusion was to the exclusion of Huawei and other Chinese tech groups from the United States and to Washington’s pressure on the European Allies to do the same. All this, as if China had not closed its space to Google, Facebook or Amazon for years.
In the meantime, for Xi Jinping it is very important to underline that China today is the de facto leader of emerging countries. The strongman from Beijing completely glossed over any Chinese responsibility in triggering the pandemic and recalled that China is helping 150 developing countries in the fight against Covid-19, he said. An allusion to the distribution of accessible and cheap Chinese vaccines to many dozens of emerging countries could not be missing (told by Corriere here).
It is a reference to the centrality of the United Nations, where Beijing often controls the majority of national votes thanks to its hold on about fifty African countries and dozens of other governments in Asia and Latin America.
After four years of Trump and a year of pandemic, the world is not safer than before. If Xi’s goal today at the World Economic Forum was to remind everyone, his mission fully succeeded.