Two very different worldviews conflicted with each other at the just-concluded World Economic Forum in Davos: those of Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, although Trump was not physically present. Journalist Kaiser Kuo attended, and looked increasing amazement to the developing scenes, he writes at SupChina. “I do see two different worldviews. And I know which one I find much, much more compelling.”
Of course, there’s a rather glaring irony that an autocrat at the head of a technocratic authoritarian state whose experiments in capitalism began only 37 years ago is now one of the lone voices for free trade. And there’s the fact that while compared with other emerging economies, China’s may be relatively open but certainly isn’t when compared with the economies of developed countries: Many sectors remain heavily protected. But China is, as Xi duly noted, a country that has both benefited from and suffered the ravages of globalization, in its massive wealth disparity and nightmarish environmental problems.
Xi also got in some good none-too-subtle digs at Trump: “When encountering difficulty, we should not complain, blame others, or run away from responsibilities,” he sniped. And he reaffirmed his commitment to the Paris climate change agreement: “The Paris climate deal is a hard-won achievement…all signatories should stick to it rather than walk away.” He did stop short of denying to the president that climate change was a Chinese hoax.
No one in their right mind would believe that Xi is staking a claim as inheritor to the entirety of the grand liberal tradition. His years in office so far have been marked by a disturbing deepening of illiberalism in China. And yet it’s easy to see how Trump’s hostility to free trade regimes is giving China an opening — and that should Trump actually tear up NAFTA, a China-centered free trade zone might, as Nouriel Roubini noted in one session I reported, extend all the way to Mexico.
On Friday, the last day of Davos, as the writers were finishing up their last summaries in the late afternoon, across the Atlantic, the Trump inauguration was underway. Some of us tuned in to hear Trump’s dark descriptions of American “carnage.” (I couldn’t watch, but you could hear people repeating snatches of it in disbelief.)
It was, as Trump adviser Steve Bannon told the Washington Post shortly after the speech, “an unvarnished declaration of the basic principles of his populist and kind of nationalist movement.” Indeed it was. “I think it’d be good if people compare Xi’s speech at Davos and President Trump’s speech in his inaugural,” said Bannon. “You’ll see two different worldviews.”
I do see two different worldviews. And I know which one I find much, much more compelling.
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