Say hello to the new multilateral boss


PHOTO/China Daily

Xi Jinping’s Boao Forum speech marked his latest appeal for an open global economy and against US-led decoupling

In times of grave geopolitical trouble it’s up for a true statesman to step up in the global podium and defuse a noxious Cold War 2.0 atmosphere. President Xi Jinping did deliver with his keynote speech at the annual Boao Forum in Hainan.

Here’s the full speech. And let’s start with a single sentence:

As we are going through the Covid-19 pandemic, people of all countries have more clearly realized that it is necessary to abandon the cold war mentality and zero-sum game, and oppose any form of new cold war and ideological confrontation.

The Boao audience, in a sort of Sino-Davos gathering, was composed not only of pan-Asian guests. Significantly, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Apple’s Tim Cook, Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman and Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio, among others, were giving Xi their full attention.

In a relatively compact speech, Xi once again exposed the architecture of multilateralism – and how a back-to-superpower-status China fits in. The message may have been subtly directed to the Hegemon, but most of all to a fast integrating Eurasia, as well as the whole Global South.

Xi emphasized multilateralism as the realm of justice, not hegemony, featuring “extensive consultation”, big countries behaving “in a manner befitting their status and with a greater sense of responsibility”, and all that leading to “shared benefits”, not the welfare of the 0.001%.

Beijing sees an open world economy as the pathway to multilateralism – which implies no “walls” and no “decoupling”, with China progressively opening up its own economy and boosting the interconnection of supply chains, digital economy and artificial intelligence (AI).

In a nutshell, that’s Made in China 2025 in action – without referring to the terminology that was much demonized during the Trump era.

Multilateralism and open economy are key components of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which is not only a vast trade/development model but also China’s overarching foreign policy concept.

So Xi once again had to stress that BRI is “a public road open to all, not a private path owned by one single party”. It is as much about poverty alleviation, economic growth and infrastructure “hard connectivity” as about “soft connectivity” – which includes “cooperation in infectious disease control, public health, traditional medicine and other areas”.

It’s quite telling that when Xi mentioned the adoption of Chinese vaccines, he illustrated it with two examples from the Global South: Brazil and Indonesia.

How to seduce the Global South

The Chinese approach to a new pattern of international relations draws as much from Confucius as from the Dao. Hence the emphasis on “community of shared destiny” as applied globally, and the refusal of a “Cold War and zero-sum mentality” as well as “ideological confrontation in whatever forms”.

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