He took a remarkable star turn at Davos — and, no, I don’t mean President Trump. I was thinking about Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017, when he claimed the title of globalist-in-chief in a highly praised speech to the world’s assembled CEOs and plutocrats. He was then promoting a “community of shared future for mankind” versus you-know-who’s America First policies! In the process, he won admirers galore. This year, he stayed home to oversee the development of yet more Confucius Institutes, China’s government-sponsored language-teaching programs that now exist in dozens of countries, and to supervise further planning on China’s ambitious projected 65-nation One Belt One Road initiative. That’s the vast economic program meant to tie together much of Eurasia (as well as other parts of the planet, including former U.S.-dominated bailiwicks in Latin America and the Caribbean) in a Chinese-sponsored web of construction and trade projects that, if successful, might someday give “imperial” a new meaning. This year Xi sent his key economic adviser to Davos in his place, ceding center stage to Donald Trump who flew in with seven cabinet members, didn’t drool or tweet insultingly on stage, and was similarly applauded by the globe’s leading billionaires as he declared America “open for business.” (No matter that he was already planning for a State of the Union address that would highlight his desire to wall off his country and further shut it down to outsiders.)
If you followed the America media, which simply can’t get enough of The Donald, day in, day out (minute in, minute out?), you would have experienced his performance at Davos as a grand, not to say surprising presidential triumph of the first order in front of the very crowd of globalists he spent his election campaign blasting. And if you had done so, you might well have been wrong because, even without Xi present, China, not Trump, was, as Ishan Tharoor of the Washington Post wrote, “the elephant in the room,” its “vast investments around the world and increasing geopolitical assertiveness… frequent subjects of panel debates and chatter at cocktail parties.” Keith Bradsher of the New York Times reached a similar conclusion, reporting that at Davos “geopolitical momentum lay with Beijing, not Washington” and that Xi, not The Donald, was once again the “real star” of the gathering.
And as TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author (appropriately enough) of After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World, points out today, that’s just the beginning of the way President Trump has been ceding ground to the Chinese leadership. Despite his regular attacks on China for committing the “greatest thefts in the history of the world,” when it comes to its trade policies with the U.S. (not to speak of that classic Chinese “hoax,” climate change), the president has, as Hiro vividly explains, turned out to be China’s greatest promoter on the world stage — and, as it happens, hasn’t done so badly for Russia either.