China’s president wants to be seen as leading the defense of globalization, but this will be easier said than done.
By John Ford
The Diplomat - January 28, 2017
The American withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement has opened the door to China to try and strike a pose as the leading defender of liberalized trade and globalization. The public face of this new push is none other than China’s president, Xi Jinping. This month, Xi became the first Chinese president to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where he set forth the case for continuing to expand global trade.
His effort was at least somewhat successful, with the Wall Street Journal running the headline “China’s Xi Seizes Role as Leader on Globalization.” China has backed its leader’s public statements with a renewed push for a regional trade deal of its own called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Program, or RCEP. China is also looking at pursuing separate deals with countries that were once set to join the TPP. The RCEP is not an anti-TPP program (several countries are part of both initiatives) but the failure of the TPP has opened the door for China to position itself as taking the lead on trade liberalization.
Xi’s effort to portray China as the leader of the pro-globalization camp is not entirely new; it is just the latest effort by China to expand its international soft power. Soft power is a notoriously vague term coined by Joseph Nye to describe the ability of a country to get what it wants without coercion or force. China has spent many years pursuing influence by way of growing its soft power but its previous efforts have produced anemic results. There is a good chance Xi’s current public relations offensive will fall short for the same reasons previous efforts had so much difficulty.