The oblique reference to America was pretty obvious from Xi Jingping’s presentation to a largely virtual audience at China’s annual Boao Forum on Tuesday. Not that the two nations have eventually initiated an earnest essay towards mending of fences; suffice it to register that they have agreed to cooperate on the seemingly intractable issue of climate change.
Maybe the compulsions of diplomacy militated against any direct reference to President Biden’s America; the President of China was robust nonetheless with his caveat that the world should not allow “unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world.” This was one of the warnings couched with an appeal for “cooperation and openness” to an audience of business and financial leaders.
“Bossing others around or meddling in others’ internal affairs will not get one any support. What we need in today’s world is justice, not hegemony.” The audience included American business leaders, notably Tim Cook of Apple and Elon Musk of Tesla, as well as two Wall Street financiers, Ray Dalio and Stephen Schwarzman.
Traditionally a platform for China to boast its economic might and leadership, the Boao Forum is held annually on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, though the one last year was cancelled amidst the pandemic. Mr Xi has used the forum to portray himself as an advocate of free trade and globalization, calling for openness even as many in the global business community have become increasingly vocal about growing restrictions in China’s own domestic market.
On Tuesday, he utilised the opportunity to iterate his opposition to efforts by certain countries to weaken their economic interdependence with China. “Attempts to ‘erect walls’ or ‘decouple’ would “hurt others’ interests without benefiting oneself,” President Xi said, in what appeared to be a reference to the United States and the Biden administration’s plans to support domestic high-tech manufacturing in the country.
The White House held a meeting with business executives last week to discuss a global chip shortage and plan for semi-conductor “supply chain resilience.” Speaking to executives from Google, Intel and Samsung, Mr Biden said: “China and the rest of the world is not waiting, and there’s no reason why Americans should wait.”
China is pursuing its own programme for self-sufficiency in manufacturing chips. Arguably, a certain conflict of interest is manfest in the trans-Atlantic messages, however indirectly conveyed by President Xi. He has also outlined the contours of China’s economic growth, pre-eminently with the pledge to continue to open the Chinese economy for foreign businesses.
Major Wall Street banks, notably Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, have clung to this pledge even as foreign executives complain that the broader business landscape has become more challenging. President Xi has conveyed a “yes-but” message to President Joe Biden. It can be greeted by the latter with a modified “yes”. Diplomacy is a different ball-game altogether.