Will Xi Jinping finally match his words with actions?
When it comes to preaching about globalization and openness, few can match Chinese President Xi Jinping. But his nice rhetoric doesn’t always reflect his country’s actions.
In his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai on Monday, Xi preached that “the economic and social well-being of countries in the world is increasingly interconnected,” that “economic globalization [is] an irreversible trend” and that “openness brings progress while seclusion leads to backwardness.”
He then urged “all countries to open wider and expand the space for mutually beneficial cooperation.”
As for his country, he “made it clear once and again that China’s door will never be closed. It will only open still wider. China will not stop its effort to pursue higher-quality opening-up! China will not stop its effort to pursue an open world economy!”
Indeed, over the past two years, on many occasions, he has repeatedly made the same calls and pledges, touting his communist-ruled nation as the new flagbearer of economic globalization and openness.
At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru in November 2016, which was held just over a week after US President Donald Trump’s unexpected election victory, the Chinese supremo called for “an open and integrated economy” and pledged to further open China’s economy.
Addressing the World Economic Forum (WEF) on January 17, 2017, three days before Trump’s swearing-in as America’s 45th president, Xi urged the world’s business and political elite to develop “global free trade and investment, to promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation through opening up and [to] say no to protectionism.”
In that intervention, the first of its kind by a Chinese leader, he again vowed that China would “keep its door wide open.”
China has done very little – in some cases, the opposite – of what Xi has preached
But, China has done very little – in some cases, the opposite – of what Xi has preached. This has now triggered “promise fatigue” among international business leaders.
The key theme of his aforementioned speeches and many others, such as his address at the China-Africa summit two months ago, is openness. This term and its related buzzwords, such as “open” or “opening-up,” are omnipresent in such addresses.
Under his authoritarian rule, however, China has become not more – but less – open.
At the Peru APEC summit, Xi vowed, “China will not shut its door to the outside world, but open itself even wider.” At Davos, he orated: “Any attempt to cut off the flow of capital, technologies, products, industries and people between economies … is simply not possible,” reiterating that his country “will keep its door wide open and not close it.”
In his BFA address, he proclaimed that “We live at a time with an overwhelming trend toward openness and connectivity,” that “openness leads to progress while seclusion leaves one behind” and that “the world has become a global village where our interests are intertwined and our economic and social progress interconnected.”
For all such beautiful exhortations about openness and connectivity, with a “Great Firewall of China” that blocks Google, YouTube, Facebook and much more, Xi’s China doesn’t “keep its door wide open” but rather cuts itself off from “the outside world.”
Undeniably, when it comes to openness, connectivity and, specifically, the flow of information, which Xi deliberately omitted from his litany, China “runs counter to the historical trend.”
That’s why it is unsurprising that China was “the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom in Freedom on the Net,” taking the top spot for “the third consecutive year” over other authoritarian countries, such as Syria, Iran and Cuba, in Freedom House’s latest report.
In September, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution on EU-China relations that was also very critical of a wide range of Chinese domestic and foreign policies under Xi’s increasingly authoritarian rule. For instance, it “expresses concerns at China’s massive cyberspace surveillance systems” and “condemns the ongoing crackdown on internet freedom by the Chinese authorities, in particular the freedom to access foreign websites.”
In his remarks on the Trump administration’s policy toward China early last month, Vice President Mike Pence noted that “in recent years, China has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression of its own people.” He cited the “Great Firewall of China,” describing it as “drastically restricting the free flow of information to the Chinese people.”
On the economic front, for all Xi’s praises of China’s “continuous progress in reform and opening-up” over the past four decades at the WEF in January 2017, the WEF’s biannual report published a few weeks earlier found that “in terms of market access, China remains one of the most closed markets.”
Despite its colossal market size, the country of 1.3 billion people ranked relatively low – at 27th out of 137 countries/territories in the Davos-based WEF’s 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) – because its market was not really open. In fact, it occupied the 101st place in the GCI’s “domestic market access pillar,” which “assesses the level and complexity of a country’s tariff protection as a result of its trade.”
Despite its colossal market size, the country of 1.3 billion people ranked relatively low – at 27th out of 137 countries/territories in the Davos-based WEF’s 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Index – because its market was not really open
More astoundingly, though Xi vehemently vowed to further open the world’s second-largest economy in that high-profile speech in Davos, according to a key report published by the European Union, the People’s Republic created 10 new barriers, the highest number by any country, in 2017.
This could be why in the WEF’s latest n, released last month, the PRC’s overall GCI was a place down from last year. By comparison, the US topped the 2018-2019 GCI. What’s even more remarkable is that, for all Xi’s pro-trade rhetoric and Trump’s tariff war, China was placed at 124th in “trade tariffs” while the US stood at 36th.
Thus, instead of making more of the same pledges, China’s “core” leader should practice what he has continuously preached and promised. If not, the world’s political and business leaders, who have already grown wary of his empty promises, will no longer believe or be interested in what he says.
That international and Asian markets, in particular, are largely indifferent to Xi’s key speech at the first CIIE shows that the world, Asia and even his own country no longer take his words seriously.
As the Asian giant has been locked in a bitter trade war with the US, his “upbeat” remarks should have made a positive impact. But, as reported, Asian shares continue to slide, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index closing down 2.1% while mainland China’s CSI 300 index of large Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed stocks fell 0.8% on Monday.