Saturday 24 February 2018

Old roles are turned on their head in Davos at the crossroads

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Dearbhail McDonald Group Business Editor, Davos

HE was billed as the star of the show and Xi Jinping, the President of China, did not disappoint.

Had anyone predicted five years ago that a premier from a repressive, communist state would take centre stage at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos - and as the arch defender of globalisation - they would have been laughed at.

But such are the shifts in the global order that it fell to a not-entirely uncontroversial leader from the east to defend globalisation and warn against protectionism - values often held aloft as inherently western.

Mr Xi did not once mention America or President elect Donald Trump by name. He didn't need to.

Speaking just days before Trump's inauguration, Xi's warning that there would be no winners in a global trade war chimed with his audience of world leaders who had made the annual pilgrimage to the Swiss Alps to grapple with the problem of what went wrong with globalisation.

In his election campaign Mr Trump floated a possible 45pc tariff on goods from China, and he has swept to power on a tide of bombastic populism.

In contrast, Xi Jinping who spoke slowly and eloquently at Davos - was positively patrician and presidential, in the US or European sense of that term. Not everyone will be convinced by China as the defender of globalisation.

But Xi's speech was warmly received and it's hard to disagree with his analysis that we are all swimming in "the vast ocean of the global market".

As an act of diplomacy of a very public nature, China and Xi couldn't have asked for a better Davos debut.

Mr Trump did not attend Davos, but did send his trusted advisor, Anthony Scaramucci.

Mr Scaramucci told the BBC that the US would win a trade war with China if the latter chose to retaliate to any import tariffs imposed by the Trump administration.

But when pressed, he told the WEF that he respected China and its President, adding that the Trump administration would seek to have a "phenomenal relationship" with the Chinese.

Billed as an executive member of the President elect's team, Scaramucci occupied the role of interpreter in chief.

"Here's what I think he [Trump] was trying to say," said Scaramucci when asked about the President elect's inflammatory statements on a host of issues including China, Nato and Brexit.

Scaramucci, who is set to become an assistant to Trump in the office for public liaison, appealed to Davos and beyond to get to know Trump more intimately.

"This is a great leader… he has enormous respect for other leaders," said Scaramucci, who predicted that Mr Trump and the man who preceded him, President Barack Obama, will be shooting the breeze next year playing golf and helping each other out with policy.

The official theme of this year's annual meeting is "Responsive Leadership" but it could arguably have been called dancing at the crossroads.

Irish Independent

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