How they see us: China’s irritation with Trump at Davos
President Donald Trump acted the salesman, not the statesman, at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, said China Daily (China) in an editorial. Trying to “assuage the concerns of an elite global audience worried about his protectionist, isolationist America First strategy,” he told business and political leaders assembled at the Swiss mountain resort that “America is open for business,” and urged foreign investors to “bring your money, your jobs, your businesses” to the U.S. Trump gave a nod to the theme of this year’s Davos summit—“Creating a shared future in a fractured world”—by saying that all sovereign nations are stronger when they work “toward shared dreams.” But he gave “no clue as to what goals and dreams his administration wants others to share, aside from helping to make the U.S. great again.”
Trump cast China as America’s great economic enemy, said the Global Times. He did not name China specifically, but the message of his speech was clear. Trump said the U.S. would not “turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices, including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, and pervasive state-led economic planning”—all charges he had previously leveled at China. And his answer to this caricature of Chinese policies was to tout his brand of “brazen economic nationalism.” Yet in Davos, the business and political elite were having none of it. They remember Chinese President Xi Jinping’s stirring speech at the forum last year, when he extolled trade liberalization and rejected protectionism. At this point, “China’s reputation for supporting free trade and safeguarding the global system is better than that of the U.S.”
That’s why China is now the innovator in the world economy, said Zhang Zhixin, also in the Global Times. “China aims to build an open, inclusive, clean, and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity.” Toward that goal, it is investing more than $1 trillion in the global Belt and Road initiative—which will see new ports, roads, and railway lines built in countries across the planet—and “shouldering more responsibilities for world peace and development.” Where the U.S. turns inward, China turns outward, offering dialogue, trade, and shared benefits. This win-win vision of international relations will surely prevail over Trump’s zero-sum interpretation.
In the short term, though, Trump could do damage to China’s economy, said Zhenhua Lu in the South China Morning Post. He has been aggressive in wielding “seldom-used unilateral trade weapons” against China, such as launching an investigation into alleged Chinese theft of intellectual property. That investigation, under Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act, could serve as an excuse for sweeping U.S. sanctions on Chinese-made semiconductors and telecom products. He’s already slapped a huge tariff on imported solar panels, an industry China leads. If he imposes more levies, says Anna Ashton of the Washington-based U.S.-China Business Council, the U.S. “will be starting a trade war.” And that’s a war nobody can win.