The Chinese president made no mention of his country's pandemic response
The last time China’s Xi Jinping addressed the World Economic Forum at Davos, Donald Trump was days away from becoming President, and a lockdown was defined as ‘the confinement of prisoners to their cells for all or most of the day’ — not a public health policy invented in China.
In the four years since, Trump has come and gone, legal freedoms have been restricted in Hong Kong, countries have begun to label China’s persecution of its Uyghur minority as a genocide, and a pandemic born in Wuhan has changed the meaning of the word lockdown for good.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Xi’s keynote speech did not mention Hong Kong, or the Uyghurs; there was no mention of the role China’s secretive and clumsy response in Wuhan played in allowing Covid-19 to become a global disaster.
Instead, Xi delivered a paean to multilateralism, the benefits of globalisation, and the dangers of ‘ideological prejudice’. He called for a strengthening of the UN, the WHO, and other organs of global governance.
That national borders are strengthening by the day and the globalist utopia looks more distant than ever wasn’t deemed worth mentioning. China’s president, much like his Davos audience, seemed to be inhabiting a parallel universe.
“Guided by science, reason and humanitarian spirit, the world has achieved initial progress in fighting Covid-19,” President Xi said.
Much of the speech — which will have thrilled Xi’s hosts at the WEF — was devoted to repudiating a caricature of Donald Trump’s foreign policy approach. To start a new Cold War, to reject or threaten others, to wilfully impose supply disruption or sanctions, to create isolation, will only push the world into “division” and “confrontation”, Xi said.
His characterisation of China’s influence in world affairs might have been said of a Scandinavian social democracy or a Barack Obama post-Presidency workshop. Now that is has developed into a “modern socialist country,” China will work with other countries to build “an open, inclusive, peaceful and beautiful world” of “lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity.”
This year’s Davos motto is: ‘A Crucial Year to Rebuild Trust’. After a year in which WEF founder, Klaus Schwab became the object of a vast online conspiracy based on his book, ‘The Great Reset’, rebuilding trust is an understandable goal. But it is hard to conclude that the best way to assuage fears that Western elites are cosying up to China and imposing new ways of life on their populations was to invite the Chinese President to deliver the keynote address, and bookend it with fawning praise from Mr Schwab himself.