Xi Jinping urges world leaders to put aside divisions in virtual Davos speech

Jun Mai in Beijing, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jan 26 2021 01:04 PM

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday urged world leaders to put aside ideological confrontations in a speech to the World Economic Forum.

In the address, issued via video link, he warned that attempts to “isolate, intimidate, decouple and sanction” others will “only push the world into division, even confrontation”.

He added: “History and reality have made it clear, time and again, that the misguided approach of antagonism and confrontation, be it in the form of a cold war, hot war, trade war or tech war, will eventually hurt all countries’ interests and undermine everyone’s well-being.”

During the 20-minute speech, the Chinese president also described different political systems as a type of diversity that human civilisation cannot live without.

The speech was made as the new Biden administration is busy repairing ties with US allies after Donald Trump’s presidency. China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Beijing would like to work with the new US administration to get bilateral relations “back on the normal track”.

Since his election victory, Biden has spoken with key allies including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Almost all the conversations have touched on their coordinated strategies towards China or the Indo-Pacific region.

Biden has not yet spoken with Xi on the phone, as Beijing tiptoes over its messaging to the Biden administration. In an unusual move on Saturday, the Chinese embassy in the US denied media reports that it had sent a letter proposing a meeting between senior officials to discuss a Xi-Biden summit.

Without naming Trump, Xi said that countries should respect each other’s differences and advanced countries should abandon cold war thinking and not try to impose their will on smaller nations.

“Each country is unique with its own history, culture and social system, and none is superior to the other. The best criteria [in deciding the merits of a political system] is whether a country’s history, culture and social system fits its particular situation, enjoys people’s support, serves to deliver political stability, social progress and better lives, and contributes to human progress,” Xi said.

“Differences [among countries] in itself is no cause for alarm. What does sound the alarm is arrogance, prejudice and hatred; it is the attempt to impose a hierarchy on human civilisations or to force one’s own history, culture and social system upon others,” he added.

“[We] must advocate competition on a fair basis like track and field games … [not] a gladiatorial life-and-death fight,” Xi said.

Previous speeches by Xi have discussed Communist Party ideology, including his 2017 Davos address in which he said it had chosen the right path for the Chinese people. But this year he did not discuss the topic, even though the party’s centenary is his main domestic priority for the year.

Xi also asserted Beijing’s leadership among developing countries, and promised that China would “offer help within its power” to provide Covid-19 vaccines and tackle poverty.

China’s state leaders have long used the forum, usually held in the Swiss resort of Davos but moved online this year, as a platform for Beijing’s messaging to rally international support. Xi has spoken a few times at the event, often advocating multilateralism in a thinly veiled criticism of Trump.

Other world leaders attending the event include Macron and Suga, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

John Kerry, Biden’s special climate envoy, is due to speak on Wednesday, while Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was set to speak later on Monday.

Xi, who announced last year that China aimed to hit peak carbon emissions before 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060, reaffirmed the targets in his speech, but added that it would need “tremendous hard work” to achieve them.

“China is making detailed plans and has started taking measures to ensure it can reach those targets,” he said.
Since Xi’s announcement in September, provinces, cities and state-owned enterprises have started rolling out their own timelines for cutting emissions, many of which are earlier than the national deadline.

Xi also restated China’s willingness to further facilitate trade and investment and said it will continue to ensure the stability of the global supply chain.

“Scientific and technological advances should benefit all humanity rather than be used to curb and contain other countries’ development,” he said, adding that China would continue to open its vast domestic market to foreign businesses.

Late last year, Xi and European leaders concluded their marathon negotiations to seal an investment agreement.

The deal has faced intensive criticism due to reports of forced labour in Xinjiang, but Brussels defended it, saying it had secured a pledge to work towards implementing International Labour Organization standards, adding that Beijing had made an “unprecedented commitment” to provide commercial certainty.

China’s economy grew by 2.3 per cent in 2020, the lowest rate in more than four decades. However, it is expected to be the only major economy to have grown last year as other countries struggled to contain the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.