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Xi Jinping's Global Leadership at Davos 2017

John Kirton, G7 and G20 Research Groups
January 8, 2017

When the selected members of the global elite gather for their annual conference of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, from January 17 to 20, several key country leaders will not be there. US president-elect Donald Trump will be busy preparing for his formal inauguration in Washington DC on January 20. Chancellor Angela Merkel from nearby Germany and host of the G20 summit in 2017 has chosen not to use this traditional opportunity to outline her priorities for this central global governance event. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also stay home to consult with ordinary citizens across his country about their anxieties and advice. As Merkel and Trudeau are today's most influential proponents of the open, inclusive, international exchange that Trump has questioned, the world will have to wait until they meet  at the Group of Seven summit in Taormina, Italy, on May 26-27 to see which approach will prevail.

Yet at Davos, there will still be one high-profile defender of the openness that has brought so many benefits to so many since the dark days of war and depression before 1945. It is China's President Xi Jinping, who just hosted a successful G20 summit at Hangzhou on September 4-5, 2016, and who remains a member of the governing troika that will steer the G20 to its next summit in Hamburg on July 7-8 this year. The world is watching and wondering, with great anticipation, what this new prospective leader in global governance will do.

At a minimum Xi will be expected to live up to the official theme of Davos 2017, by credibly offering "Responsive and Responsible Leadership." But in practice, he is likely to do more.

Xi will come from a China that has increasingly acted as a leader in G20 governance, as I describe in my recent book, China's G20 Leadership. Xi took a bigger, broader, bolder step in China's G20 leadership at Hangzhou. His G20 summit made many advances, across its built-in finance and economic agenda, and its newer one on innovation, corruption, climate change and energy, migration and health.

At Davos, Xi will vigorously defend the value of open trade and investment, for China, for the United States, and for the workers and the poor everywhere. He will call for full respect for the rule and processes of the World Trade Organization and of the high-level principles on investment that the Hangzhou Summit produced. As the leader of the world's first-ranked trading power, he may well warn newer leaders that leaving free trade areas and practising protectionism could unleash a spiral of closure and recession that would harm all, and the initiators the most.

A second message from President Xi will be the need to urgently and ambitiously control climate change. He will speak from direct experience, as leader of the world's greatest climate polluter, whose major cities have been smothered by a deadly smog for the last few months. His audience will know that the world  just had its warmest year on record, and that their skiing in the Swiss Alps is not as easy or as enjoyable as before. Yet at Davos, President Xi could well repeat his words to the Business 20 leaders at Hangzhou, that "green mountains and clean water are as good as mountains of gold and silver." And he could again say how he was thus closing the coal mines in China, but now add that he will go further, faster than before.

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