China's hopes for hegemony may soon be dashed
The last time Xi Jinping addressed the Davos economic forum was shortly after Donald Trump took office four years ago. His return to the stage yesterday, albeit remotely, may have owed much to the removal of Beijing’s chief tormentor from the White House and the election of a president committed to reviving international co-operation and multilateralism.
The Chinese leader urged governments worldwide to act together to put the global economy back on a sure footing after the upheavals of the past year and not be tempted to start a new Cold War or be drawn into a “confrontational dead-end”. The great irony is that while the West continues to struggle with the consequences of a virus that emerged in Wuhan, China is growing once again. In the final quarter of 2020, Chinese GDP rose by more than six per cent.
Mr Xi is, therefore, in a stronger position than any other world leader, his country largely free of Covid and its economy flourishing once more. But China’s rhetorical commitment to multilateralism belies the reality of its actions. Moreover, if Beijing is looking to Joe Biden to end the trade stand-off, it will likely be disappointed as Democrats are traditionally more protectionist than Republicans.
Given the chaos in the West, President Xi probably sees himself as the key global figure, not least because the Communist Party’s fixation on security and stability ahead of democracy and liberty is finding echoes in the rest of the world among people terrified of the virus. But if the vaccine is allowed to unlock western economies rather than become yet another reason for maintaining restrictions, China’s new hegemony should be short lived.