- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The forces of free trade, open markets and globalization have a new champion: Chinese President — and Communist Party chief — Xi Jinping.

In remarks widely seen as a veiled swipe at President-elect Donald Trump, Mr. Xi told the glitzy annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday that the world’s leading economic powers should keep their markets open to international trade and investment, warning that no one will win in a trade war.

Mr. Trump has been sharply critical of China and the huge persistent trade surplus Beijing has run up with the U.S. His top trade appointees have a history of taking on China over perceived unfair trading practices and currency manipulation to boost exports.

But Mr. Xi, in his first trip ever to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, made a pitch likely to be highly welcome to the wealthy and influential pro-globalization types who typically flock to the Swiss resort summit each year.

“Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room,” Mr. Xi said in his remarks Tuesday. “Wind and rain may be kept outside, but so are light and air.”

“No one,” he said, “will emerge as the winner in a trade war.”

Promising an “America first” economic policy, Mr. Trump has said globalization and unfair trade deals have contributed to the decimation of the U.S. manufacturing base and the loss of millions of quality jobs. But Mr. Xi — without mentioning the U.S. president-elect by name — rejected that analysis.

“The problems troubling the world are not caused by globalization. They are not the inevitable outcome of globalization,” he said.

At least some in the exclusive gathering of world leaders, elite bankers and policy analysts thought Mr. Xi had scored a major point amid the uncertainty coming out of Washington.

“There is a vacuum when it comes to global economic leadership, and Xi Jinping is clearly aiming to fill it — with some success,” former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt said in a Twitter post.

Pushing back for the American president-elect in Davos has been former hedge fund manager and now Trump “public liaison” adviser Anthony Scaramucci, a Davos regular who joked with reporters that he had brought a “food taster” to this year’s gathering. He denied that Mr. Trump was seeking a damaging trade war between the U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest economies.

“We want to have a phenomenal relationship with the Chinese,” Mr. Scaramucci said at one point, The Wall Street Journal reported. But China’s leaders “have to reach now towards us and allow us to create this symmetry [on trade] because the path to globalization for the world is through the American worker and the American middle class.”

But with China sending a delegation of more 100 top government and business officials to Davos this year, every line of Mr. Xi’s address was scrutinized as a possible reaction to Mr. Trump’s surprise victory and the contest for global economic leadership.

The speech comes against a backdrop of rising tensions between Beijing and Washington during Mr. Trump’s transition, in which the billionaire former real estate developer raised questions about the U.S. “One China” policy after taking a precedent-breaking telephone call from independence-leaning Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and questioning China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

China is also widely seen as seeking to displace the U.S. as the primary driver of economic development in East Asia, the world’s most dynamic region. Beijing is pushing its own trade pact for the region after Mr. Trump made clear that he would not pursue the ambitious 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration — a deal that did not include China.

In a speech that name-checked Charles Dickens and Abraham Lincoln, Mr. Xi at one point quoted what he said was a traditional Chinese saying: “People with petty shrewdness attend to trivial matters while people with great vision attend to governance of institutions.”

While analysts say Beijing’s reality hasn’t always matched its rhetoric on free trade, Mr. Xi declared that China “will keep its doors wide open. We hope that other countries will also keep their doors open to Chinese investors and maintain a level playing field for us.”

Mr. Scaramucci acknowledged to the Davos delegates that his pugnacious, Twitter-happy boss is “not necessarily communicating in a way that this community would love,” according to The Journal.

But he quickly added that Mr. Trump “is communicating very, very effectively to a very large group of the population in Europe and the United States [who] are feeling a common struggle right now that maybe many of us here in this room do not feel.”

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