‘Arrogant isolation’ will always fail, says Xi Jinping at WEF virtual event

President Xi Jinping said the global economic outlook remained uncertain and public health emergencies "may very well recur" in future.
President Xi Jinping said the global economic outlook remained uncertain and public health emergencies "may very well recur" in future.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - With the Covid-19 pandemic plunging the world into its worst recession since the second World War and the battle against the outbreak far from over, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged world leaders to cooperate in dealing with the public health crisis and save the world economy.

In a special address on Monday (Jan 25) at the World Economic Forum’s virtual event, The Davos Agenda, the Chinese leader called for a renewed focus on multilateral cooperation and a rejection of isolationism and "ideological prejudice".

His speech bore similarities to a keynote address he delivered at Davos in 2017 where he defended globalisation and stressed the ill effects of a trade war, while signalling China’s willingness to take on a bigger role as a global leader while the US retreated into isolationism under then president Donald Trump.

"The pandemic is far from over and the recent resurgence in Covid cases reminds us that we must carry on the fight. There is no doubt that humanity will prevail over the virus and emerge even stronger from this disaster," said Mr Xi in his half-hour-long speech.

"We should stay committed to keeping up with the times instead of rejecting change. Now is the time for major development and major transformation."

Mr Xi’s comments - made to an international audience and just five days after US President Joe Biden’s swearing-in - are being watched for signs of how China will treat its soured bilateral relationship with the world’s greatest superpower.

While President Xi repeatedly stressed the importance of cooperation, whether on a Covid-19 response, strengthening the global economy or tackling climate change, there were veiled warnings for the US and its democratic allies which have openly sanctioned or criticised China over Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

"We should respect and accommodate differences, avoid meddling in other countries’ internal affairs and resolve disagreements through consultation and dialogue," said Mr Xi.

"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’ interest and undermine everyone’s well-being."

Beijing has accused countries that have spoken against a national security law enacted in Hong Kong last year and mass incarceration in Xinjiang, among others, of interfering in its domestic affairs and undermining its sovereignty.

Punishing trade sanctions and tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese companies and products also continue to be in place, and there is no indication yet that President Biden will lift them.

President Xi called for world leaders to consider four objectives as they come to grips with the pandemic: stepping up macroeconomic policy coordination to lift the battered global economy; abandoning "ideological prejudice" and accepting that no two countries’ systems are the same; narrowing the gap between developed and developing nations; and coming together against global challenges such as public health crises and climate change.

He urged a commitment to international rules and support of multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation, saying there is a need to push ahead with reforms of the latter.

Mr Xi also reiterated China’s commitment to play an active global role in thwarting the Covid pandemic, keeping its doors open and fufilling its promise to become carbon neutral by 2060.

In a reassuring tone, China’s leader also pledged to continue its foreign policy of peace.

"Zero-sum game or winner-takes-all is not the guiding philosophy of the Chinese people," he said.