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Citizen of the World

AS THE UNITED STATES WITHDRAWS FROM A KEY INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENT, BEIJING IS BECOMING THE GLOBAL CHAMPION OF FREE TRADE
GLOBAL WARMING: China’s President Xi Jinping has an opportunity to position himself as a statesman, even as he cracks down on dissent at home.
ILLUSTRATION COSTIS PAPATHEODOROU Mint

THREE DAYS BEFORE Donald Trump took the oath of office and became the 45th president of the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping stood on the main stage at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos and alluded to Charles Dickens. It was, Xi told the gathering of the global business and policy elite, “the best of times and the worst of times.” The Chinese president then delivered an uncompromising defense of globalization, despite acknowledging its laws. It had, he said, “powered global growth and facilitated movement of goods and capital, advances in science, technology and civilization, and interactions among people.”

Five days later, Trump made it as clear as possible that he did not share Xi’s enthusiasm for international free trade deals. On January 23, the new president signed an order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the hard-won trade deal negotiated under President Barack Obama. The TPP would have created a trade pact with 12 countries, including Japan, Peru and Vietnam, that together would have represented 40 percent of the global economy. The deal deliberately excluded China, and many in Washington saw it as a way of containing China’s regional dominance.

In Beijing, Xi will likely have reacted to Trump’s move to withdraw from the TPP with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the decision delivered a significant blow to the era of free trade; but Xi would no doubt have celebrated the demise of a deal designed in part to hem in China’s vast engine of trade.

As the U.S. was backing away from a major international agreement, China continued its push to strike pacts with other nations. The same day that Trump consigned the TPP to the Oval Office wastebasket, a Chinese initiative had some good news to share. The multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which was set up by Beijing in 2015 to finance infrastructure projects across Asia, had received applications from 25 new prospective members from Africa, Europe and South America, to add to the 57 existing shareholders. The U.S. had been hostile to the bank, seeing it as a challenge to existing institutions, such as the World Bank, and had declined to join; it chastised others, including the U.K., for signing on. Jin Liqun, the bank’s Chinese president, told the Financial Times, “China needs to do something that can help it be recognized as a responsible leader.”

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Is China’s Xi Jinping about to become a global statesman? President Donald Trump turns America inward as the US withdraws from a Key International agreement.
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