Chinese President Xi Jinping recently gave a speech to the World Economic Forum. This time, he wasn?t just representing the world's second-largest economy, but the world's global economic recovery engine.
Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a keynote speech on January 17 during the World Economic Forum's (WEF) latest online summit, sharing an optimistic appraisal of the future during an otherwise dark time.
Xi's speech comes in the context of a slew of economic data from the Chinese government that makes it clear that Beijing is leading the world's economic recovery, giving a ton of weight to Xi's words to the WEF.
For one, China's gross domestic product (GDP) grew 8.1 percent in 2021, the fastest growth rate in nearly a decade and surpassing the government's annual target just above six percent. What's more, China's GDP per capita rose to $12,551 that same year, which places the country into the category of "high-income country," per the World Bank's definition.
This data point alone shows China is the center of the global economic recovery, which is only going to be more pronounced in 2022 since the world's largest free-trade zone, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the Asia-Pacific, went into effect this year.
In his speech, Xi brought up the fact that the world is going through historic changes not limited to any particular moment or geographic location, which he said preceded the pandemic but was obviously exacerbated by it.
He quoted a famous Chinese saying, "The momentum of the world either flourishes or declines; the state of the world either progresses or regresses" - and that history flows by means of contradictions. In this vein, he brought up three crucial points for the world that are based on fundamental contradictions and put forward a solution on how to address them.
The first is obviously the pandemic. Xi reiterated that the pandemic is a global issue the world must face together, not an issue that each country should be left to deal with alone. He called on countries to work together, to develop multiple layers of defense against the virus and to cooperate on research and development.
Xi placed particular emphasis on vaccines as an effective weapon against Covid-19 and called on countries to close the vaccination gap, stating that China had already sent out two billion doses of the vaccine to over 120 countries and organizations. On top of this, China will send one billion more doses specifically to African nations - including 600 million as donations.
Secondly, he said that the world has to cooperate on the global economic recovery. This means working together on emerging supply chain crises and surging energy costs, which are inflating prices around the world.
Xi also called on major economies to resist the urge to slam on the brakes economically by making a U-turn in monetary policy that could destabilize the global financial environment, disproportionately hurting developing countries. He was clearly referring to the United States Federal Reserve, which has signaled that it will raise rates for the first time in years in order to curb inflation.
The Chinese leader also called on countries to lean into globalization and seek further integration rather than decoupling, again clearly aimed at Washington. He said that the existing global trade system, led by the World Trade Organization (WTO), should adopt new rules for the growing digital economy and create an "open, just and non-discriminatory environment" for innovation.
Xi's statement is an obvious reaction to moves by some countries in recent years to ban Chinese tech companies, such as Huawei, over "national security concerns."
Recently, former UK Business and Industry Minister Vince Cable said at an event on January 11 that the UK government's decision to ban Huawei 5G equipment and services was made "because the Americans told us we should do it" and "had nothing to do with national security." (I recently wrote a column on this subject.)
Finally, Xi called on bridging the development gap. He noted that the human development index (HDI) declined for the first time in 30 years and that the world's poor population has increased by 100 million, plus nearly 800 million people live in hunger.
He mentioned climate change as a specific issue, saying that meeting climate commitments should take development into account and that developed countries must take the lead on meeting their commitments.
Countries like China and India have repeatedly pointed out that while they are contributing to emissions heavily now, historical emissions have mostly been produced in Europe and North America. In this vein, it's not fair (or practical) to expect developing countries to focus solely on the green economy while also facing the challenge of lifting people out of abject poverty.
Xi also mentioned that zero-sum approaches to international relations that create blocs, polarize the world and over-stretch the definition of national security to hold back other countries is contrary to history. Instead, he called on peaceful development and win-win cooperation.
The data certainly indicates that China is benefiting from these positions in practice. China's General Administration of Customs (GAC) announced on January 14 that the country's trade volume rose to its highest level ever at over six trillion dollars. What's impressive is that this sharp rise in imports and exports was among not only its main trading partners, but also saw a sharper rise in the developing world.
China's top trading partners - namely, ASEAN countries, the European Union and the United States - increased by 19.7 percent, 19.1 percent and 20.2 percent, respectively.
Plus, trade volume with countries signed onto the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) reported a higher-than-average increase of 23.6 percent, reflecting deeper South-South trade cooperation.
China's foreign direct investment (FDI) to the mainland also expanded 14.9 percent year-on-year to a record high of 1.15 trillion yuan in 2021. In dollar terms, this increase was a 20.2 percent year-on-year increase to a total of 173.48 billion dollars, making China the hottest FDI destination that year - just as it was in 2020.
This will likely surge in 2022 if the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) is ratified by the EU parliament, as EU Council French President Emmanuel Macron wishes to see.
Despite attempts by Washington to alienate China, Beijing is leading the world economic recovery. It's time Western countries take China's positions on the most important issues seriously in order to expedite humanity's progress.