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Uncle Xi and the world

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - February 11, 2021 - 12:00am

What did Uncle Xi really tell the world in Davos? He spoke of world peace, goodness to mankind, justice and all that jazz, but what’s the underlying message?

His speech, Let the Torch of Multilateralism Light Up Humanity’s Way Forward, during last month’s gathering of world leaders – held virtually for the first time – is telling. It spoke of how China views the world, but in essence it is also a reflection of how China wants the world to see it – a benevolent superpower.

This, to me, means China will continue to work toward its ambitions and advance its interests which have vastly expanded.

What does this mean for Filipinos? For the Philippines, it could mean stronger ties with Beijing, whether we like it or not. This also means more Chinese products coming to the Philippines, including its vaccines, some of which are already here; more policies favoring China; and more infrastructure projects funded by Chinese loans, among others.

President Xi Jinping’s recurring theme was “inclusive growth of the world economy.”

“History is moving forward and the world will not go back to what it was in the past. Every choice and move we make today will shape the world of the future. It is important that we properly address the four major tasks facing people of our times,” he said.

Inclusive growth

The first step, said the Chinese leader, is “to step up macroeconomic policy coordination and jointly promote strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth of the world economy.”

Cooperation becomes more imperative amid the “worst recession since the end of World War II,” Xi said.

I agree, but let us not forget that this recession was brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which was made worse by China’s delay in letting the world know of the outbreak.

Peaceful coexistence

The second step, Xi told his fellow world leaders, is “to follow a path of peaceful coexistence.”

“No two leaves in the world are identical... Each country is unique with its own history, culture and social system, and none is superior to the other,” Xi said, noting that a country’s government must ultimately deliver better lives.

“What does ring the alarm is arrogance, prejudice and hatred; it is the attempt to impose hierarchy on human civilization or to force one’s own history, culture and social system upon others.”

It’s a good point, really and perhaps President Xi was looking back at the Trump era when tariff-related tensions between US and China escalated.

Nevertheless, I will take it with skepticism. And why not? China has been viewed as Asia’s hegemon and the most aggressive. We should know; we only have to look at the West Philippine Sea.

Mind the gap

Xi’s third recommendation is “to close the divide between developed and developing countries and jointly bring about growth and prosperity for all.”

Today, he said, inequality continues to grow.

The international community, he added, “should keep its eyes on the long run, honor its commitment, and provide necessary support to developing countries and safeguard their legitimate development interests.”

The Earth is our only home

XI’s fourth point is to join forces and “come together against global challenges and jointly create a better future for humanity.”

“The Earth is our one and only home. To scale up efforts to address climate change and promote sustainable development bears on the future of humanity. No global problem can be solved by any one country alone,” he said.

Cold War

In all, he said, we should reject the outdated Cold War and zero-sum game mentality and adhere to mutual respect.

“It is important that we stick to the cooperation concept based on mutual benefit, say no to narrow-minded, selfish beggar-thy-neighbor policies, and stop unilateral practice of keeping advantages in development all to oneself.”

He called on fair competition, to strive for excellence in a racing field, “not beating each other in a wrestling arena.”

I like this part and I believe that competition is good for consumers as it will ultimately bring down prices and hopefully, bring about a wide array of quality goods and services.

It’s a touching speech, even an assuring one really, but of course it is how Davos speeches go.

I would have wanted to hear more about China’s behavior in the West Philippine Sea, its crackdown on journalists and businesses, or perhaps about its continuing conflict with Taiwan, especially as President Xi called on states to “stay committed to international laws.”

But perhaps, as all world leaders want to portray their nations in a positive light, Uncle Xi’s benevolent, inspiring and moving speech is largely expected.

What we should wait for now is how these words will play out in the real world, including countries like ours to which China is increasingly becoming that old, rich and strict gray-haired uncle one can never say no to.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

UNCLE XI
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