China ready to play a leading role at Davos

By Jeremy Garlick Source:Global Times Published: 2017/1/12 20:03:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

For the first time, Chinese President Xi Jinping is going to visit the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum (WEF) starting on January 17.

Davos is generally known as an opportunity for the global elites to rub shoulders at lavish parties. It's often seen as a schmooze-fest for the high and mighty, during which major deals with global impacts are struck behind closed doors. 

But this year's event appears to be different, not the least because the Chinese president will be attending. The WEF has set an agenda for Davos 2017 which hints at an awareness of the need for leaders to seriously address the need for global change rather than just networking over a glass of champagne.

The official theme for the conference is "Responsive and Responsible Leadership." This slogan indicates that the organizers are cognizant of the fact that they need to be seen by the global public working to solve the problems of today's world.

The official slogan is also in tune with the priorities the Chinese government under Xi's leadership has been setting for itself. Long accused of not being a responsible stakeholder in global affairs, Beijing has been sending strong signals in the last few years, both in words and actions, that it considers China ready to play a leading role in the international community.

Several recent reports reveal, for instance, that China is now by far the biggest investor in renewable energy. In 2015, China spent more than $100 billion on developing domestic renewable energy, which is more than twice as much as the US. In addition, Chinese overseas investments in renewables went up by 60 percent in 2016.

Beijing's Belt and Road initiative for expanding trade and improving infrastructure across Asia, Europe and Africa also demonstrates China's serious intent to transform the 21st century world in an unprecedented and game-changing fashion.

This puts China - and Xi - in a strong position in Davos, particularly given the European Union's trend toward disunity, and uncertainties in the US due to its incoming president Donald Trump. The surprising decision of German Chancellor Angela Merkel not to attend this year further highlights Xi as the leader in negotiations.

The agenda for the leaders meeting in Davos gives a preview of what will be discussed. The "five key challenges" listed under the heading of "Responsive and Responsible Leadership" should reassure the global public sphere that this time the WEF is not intended to be simply a junket thrown for tycoons, but a serious discussion of how humanity needs to change direction.

The first challenge is to face up to what the WEF calls the "Fourth Industrial Revolution." This includes the need to engage with technological innovations such as robotics, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, biotechnology, nanotechnology, quantum computing and 3D printing.

China, although still an emerging economy, has been demonstrating a will to explore new scientific avenues, such as with the launch of the world's first quantum satellite in 2016. Thus, the first item on the agenda is one which Xi, a science graduate of Tsinghua University, will surely be eager to discuss.

The second priority is for leaders to "build a dynamic, inclusive multi-stakeholder global governance system." Since this is absolutely in line with the preference for multipolarity and win-win cooperation which Beijing has been pushing for years already, Xi is likely to be at the forefront of discussions here as well.

The third item on the leaders' agenda is restoring world economic growth. This, it goes without saying, is essential for all stakeholders, not just China; but since China remains the powerhouse of the world economy, and has already taken actions to restructure its economy in the face of domestic challenges such as overcapacity in the industrial sector, this is also a point on which Xi will wish to take the initiative.

Fourth on the list is the need to "reform market capitalism, and to restore the compact between business and society." Widening wealth and trust gaps between business elites and the working class are of global concern, because they represent a legitimization crisis for the world capitalist system. Faith needs to be restored, and thus the leaders at Davos need to put time into finding ways to build more equal societies and to reduce cronyism and corruption.

The last priority relates to the fourth one, concerning the eroding sense of identity and loss of faith in institutions. As traditional social structures break down under the pressure of globalization, ordinary people suffer from a loss of purpose. This is as much of a concern in China as in the US and Europe, where electorates demonstrated in 2016 that they are dissatisfied with the way things are progressing (or not progressing) at present.

Since the WEF coincides with the inauguration of the new US president and the departure of the old one, and neither will therefore be present in Davos, Xi is likely to be the star attraction of the conference. Let's hope Xi can translate his celebrity status into an ability to focus minds on the WEF's urgent set of challenges for 2017 and beyond.

The author is a lecturer in international relations, Jan Masaryk Centre for International Studies, University of Economics in Prague.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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