On the surface, relations between China's president Xi and Donald Trump have had a rocky start even before the president-elect's inauguration, with speculation about a trade war, tariffs, the collapse of the "One China" policy, the confiscation of a US naval drone, fly-bys over disputed islands, and non-stop jingoist bluster dominating the airwaves and local press. However, that may be merely bluster as the two leaders gradually warm up to each other, ironically, at a very cold place: Switzerland's World Economic Form held, as every other year, in Davos. It is here that a senior Chinese official said Beijing is open to a meeting with US president-elect Donald Trump’s team.
“China has good contacts with the present US government, and also has a smooth communication channel with Trump’s team,” deputy foreign minister Li Baodong said on Wednesday. Li was responding to a query on the possibility of a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Trump’s team members when they attend the World Economic Forum in Davos from January 17 to 20, according to SCMP.
This year's forum is expected to be dominated by discussion of a surge in public hostility toward globalization and the rise of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, whose tough talk on trade, including promises of tariffs against China and Mexico, helped win him the White House. Earlier, we laid out the top risks envisioned by the WEF in 2017, and which will be topic of much discussion by those present. They are summarized in the chart below.
State Councillor Yang Jiechi met retired general Michael Flynn, the US president-elect’s nominee for national security adviser, and other Trump team members in New York last month.
What makes this year's Davos meeting unique is that as reported previously, this will be the first time a Chinese head of state will attend the winter gathering of political and business leaders. And while Trump’s inauguration is on January 20, preventing him from participating in Davos, Xi will attend the forum as part of a state visit to Switzerland from January 15 to 18.
World Economic Forum executive chairman Klaus Schwab said “someone from the transition team representing the new [Trump] administration” would attend the forum, according to Reuters. US Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry would also be there, Schwab said.
“During the annual meeting in Davos, China is willing to exchange ideas with all parties [at the forum],” Li said, adding that bilateral meetings were still being discussed. “As long as both sides have the time and will, we are willing to arrange for meetings.” Commenting on why Xi had broken with past practice of sending the premier or other top officials to Davos and decided to attend himself, Li said the head of state’s decision came after “years of invitations from WEF executive chairman Klaus Schwab”.
According to Chinese officials, quoted by Reuters, during his visit, Xi Jinping will promote "inclusive globalization" and will warn that populist approaches can lead to "war and poverty."
Jiang Jianguo, head of the State Council Information Office, told a symposium hosted by the World Trade Organization in Geneva that President Xi would go to Davos to push for development, cooperation and economic globalization in order to build "a human community with shared destiny."
"With the rise of populism, protectionism, and nativism, the world has come to a historic crossroad where one road leads to war, poverty, confrontation and domination while the other road leads to peace, development, cooperation and win-win solutions," Jiang said.
Here China was speaking tongue in cheek, and referring not so much to events in the UK or the US, but more about possible events in China, where it is very much terrified that if the local population is ever inspired by the anti-establishment wave observed in the developed world, then it's game over for the Chinese landed oligarchy, which in many ways is far more corrupt and crony, not to mention rich, than any western government.
To that point, at a briefing in Beijing on the Davos visit, Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said China would respond to the international community's concern over globalization by putting forward Beijing's opinions on how to "steer economic globalization toward greater inclusiveness.".
Needless to say, this is precisely the opposite direction in which Trump would like to steer the world economy.
Li added that criticism of trade protectionism leveled at China, by Trump and others, was unjust. "Trade protectionism will lead to isolation and is in the interest of no one," he said. "Channels of communication are open" between China and Trump's transition team at the forum, Li said, but warned that scheduling a meeting might be difficult. Well, not if the two manage to connect in Davos, even though that would hardly resolve the inherent conflicts between a mercanilist nation and one that is (allegedly) trying to try out isolationism.
Days after Trump's victory, Xi vowed to fight protectionism and to push forward with multilateral trade deals. Foreign businesses in China have long complained about a lack of market access and protectionist Chinese policies.