The Davos Gauntlet: Xi vs. Trump over the Future of the World
DR. MATTHEW CROSSTON
Dr. Matthew Crosston is Vice Chairman of Modern Diplomacy and member of the Editorial Board at the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.
Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, came to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to deliver a speech that was eloquently in defense of globalization. If that did not seem ironic enough, consider that Steve Bannon, President Trump’s de facto political/spiritual advisor-guru, told people to go and compare Xi’s speech to Trump’s inaugural address.
His point was to emphasize two completely different worldviews between the two speeches, with the obvious intimation being the immediate future is going to be a battle between Xi and Trump. So this column does just that: it compares the important points of the two speeches and shows the world that a gauntlet has indeed been thrown down. Just what may be surprising, or perhaps disconcerting, to most readers is that the side of optimism, openness, cooperation, and integration is being championed by the world’s largest communist nation, while a completely different and decidedly dark vision is being pushed by the world’s most stable democracy.
Davos vs. D.C.: Comparing Speech Key Points
Xi: The point I want to make is that many of the problems troubling the world are not caused by economic globalization. For instance, the refugee waves from the Middle East and North Africa in recent years have become a global concern. Several million people have been displaced, and some small children lost their lives while crossing the rough sea. This is indeed heartbreaking. It is war, conflict and regional turbulence that have created this problem, and its solution lies in making peace, promoting reconciliation and restoring stability. The international financial crisis is another example. It is not an inevitable outcome of economic globalization; rather, it is the consequence of excessive chase of profit by financial capital and grave failure of financial regulation. Just blaming economic globalization for the world’s problems is inconsistent with reality, and it will not help solve the problems.
Trump: For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
It really does not get any more bluntly basic: both Xi and Trump acknowledge the uneven results of greater global interdependence. But whereas Xi is emphasizing how interdependence can and does bring conflict, he is quick to point out that conflating that reality to economic engagement is flawed analysis. Trump is not simply conflating the two together: he is actually inverting the process and intimating that it is flawed economics that inevitably creates the political discord and global conflicts. It is not about being polar opposites: their arguments switch cause-and-effect.
Xi: There was a time when China also had doubts about economic globalization, and was not sure whether it should join the World Trade Organization. But we came to the conclusion that integration into the global economy is a historical trend. To grow its economy, China must have the courage to swim in the vast ocean of the global market. If one is always afraid of bracing the storm and exploring the new world, he will sooner or later get drowned in the ocean. Therefore, China took a brave step to embrace the global market. We have had our fair share of choking in the water and encountered whirlpools and choppy waves, but we have learned how to swim in this process.
It has proved to be a right strategic choice. Whether you like it or not, the global economy is the big ocean that you cannot escape from. Any attempt to cut off the flow of capital, technologies, products, industries and people between economies, and channel the waters in the ocean back into isolated lakes and creeks is simply not possible. Indeed, it runs counter to the historical trend.
Trump: One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First…Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. America will start winning again, winning like never before.
We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
Once more, it is fascinating how these two speeches, happening so close to one another in time, are so fundamentally disparate in how they engage mutually-acknowledged problems. Both leaders are discussing their own self-doubts, their critical skepticism about globalization. Xi comes through his darkness into the light of optimistic connectivity, to the realization that despite difficulties and inconsistencies, nothing solves these problems of uneven development except more interaction and more embracing of the world market.
Trump is the reverse: again flipping the cause-and-effect to declare how it is the engagement itself with the outside world that brings chaos and disorder to America. If we
want to use the famous Cave allegory from Plato, Xi implores us to march to the cave mouth, fears notwithstanding, while Trump clearly wants to go deeper into the cave, Orc- like, finding solace in the depths of Mordor.
Xi: The gap between the poor and the rich and between the South and the North is widening. The root cause is that the three critical issues in the economic sphere have not been effectively addressed. First, lack of robust driving forces for global growth makes it difficult to sustain the steady growth of the global economy. The growth of the global economy is now at its slowest pace in seven years. Growth of global trade has been slower than global GDP growth. Short-term policy stimuli are ineffective. Fundamental structural reform is just unfolding. The global economy is now in a period of moving toward new growth drivers, and the role of traditional engines to drive growth has weakened…Second, inadequate global economic governance makes it difficult to adapt to new developments in the global economy. Madame Christine Lagarde recently told me that emerging markets and developing countries already contribute to 80 percent of the growth of the global economy…Third, uneven global development makes it difficult to meet people’s expectations for better lives. Dr. Schwab has observed in his book The Fourth Industrial Revolution that this round of industrial revolution will produce extensive and far-reaching impacts such as growing inequality, particularly the possible widening gap between return on capital and return on labor. The richest one percent of the world’s population own more wealth than the remaining 99 percent…We need to have the vision to dissect these problems; more importantly, we need to have the courage to take actions to address them.
Trump: Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public. But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
These two quotes again eerily diagnose similar problems but come to entirely opposite solutions for resolving them. Xi’s approach is to critically analyze missed opportunities and push the need for innovation and governance that ties global engagement and responsibility more tightly together. The answers for Xi involve enlarging the number of actors and markets trying to provide solutions. Trump’s answer horizon clearly stops at the borders of the United States. Since the problems are defined exclusively as innately national problems, there is no ability to diagnose an answer that goes global. Indeed, the universal theme throughout Trump’s address is to equate internationalism with regression, globalized engagement is akin to betraying American interests.
Xi: First, we should develop a dynamic, innovation-driven growth model…Second, we should pursue a well-coordinated and inter-connected approach to develop a model of open and win-win cooperation…Third, we should develop a model of fair and equitable governance in keeping with the trend of the times. As the Chinese saying goes, people with
petty shrewdness attend to trivial matters, while people with vision attend to governance of institutions. There is a growing call from the international community for reforming the global economic governance system, which is a pressing task for us. Only when it adapts to new dynamics in the international economic architecture can the global governance system sustain global growth…Fourth, we should develop a balanced, equitable and inclusive development model. As the Chinese saying goes, “A just cause should be pursued for common good.”
Trump: For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
These two quotes are quite stark in the emotional impact they might have on readers. Xi is pushing for development models that seek growth, innovation, greater fairness, and equitable success. It is a vision, in word at least if not deed, that proclaims to believe in the possibility of a win-win scenario: where both the globalized market and individuals within individual countries can all benefit. Trump’s comments push a rather traditional version of classist rhetoric, with Washington politicians taking over the role of bloated plutocrats and business titans evilly cutting success off from ‘regular’ citizens. It is interesting to see how much Xi seems to focus on the potentiality of future success whereas Trump is obsessed with painting a picture of a decrepit present.
Xi: Over three years ago, I put forward the “Belt and Road” initiative. Since then, over 100 countries and international organizations have given warm responses and support to the initiative. More than 40 countries and international organizations have signed cooperation agreements with China, and our circle of friends along the “Belt and Road” is growing bigger. Chinese companies have made over $50 billion of investment and launched a number of major projects in the countries along the routes, spurring the economic development of these countries and creating many local jobs. The “Belt and Road” initiative originated in China, but it has delivered benefits well beyond its borders…In May this year, China will host in Beijing the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which aims to discuss ways to boost cooperation, build cooperation platforms and share cooperation outcomes. The forum will also explore ways to address problems facing global and regional economy, create fresh energy for pursuing inter-connected development and make the “Belt and Road” initiative deliver greater benefits to people of countries involved.
Trump: We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions. Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together, we will make America great again.
These last two quotes give a perfect ‘political snapshot’ of where China and the United States presently stand in the global zeitgeist, as it were. Xi lauds his massive and ongoing One Belt One Road project, a symbol of proactive optimism, of taking responsibility for enacting progressive change. Trump, even when speaking about ‘friendship’ and ‘goodwill’, speaks of these terms only within the context of first satisfying American interests. This is a trend that has consistently put America in trouble globally, both in economic terms and political endeavors. The world has likely grown weary of American ‘partnership’ that has a sharp hierarchy, where clear and distinct subordinate roles are given to everyone meant to work with America. Xi’s One Belt One Road project is given as a rejection of that ideology: yes, it benefits Chinese interests but it reaches its maximum potential and success only when it is simultaneously benefiting dozens of other countries. Trump’s language is geared exclusively to national pride and a reinvigoration of nationalist progress, with an open rejection of any concern about other countries.
So here we sit in Bizarro world. Communists looking outward, seeking liberal economic progress and advancement. Democrats looking inward, seeking to reject global partnership and shunning international engagement and connectivity. Bannon was right: Xi and Trump are offering two utterly opposed visions of the future. But where Bannon is likely wrong is in his presumption that Trump’s vision is the one people should be hailing.
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