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Can Davos diplomacy warm the relationship between the US and China?

Jan 15. 2017
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By Suwatchai Songwanich
Chief executive Officer,
Bangkok Bank (China)

Xi Jinping will this week become the first Chinese President to attend the annual gathering of business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 

With many prominent leaders skipping the meeting – including outgoing US president Barak Obama, Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Francois Holland, Italy’s Matteo Renzi and Canada’s Justin Trudeau – Xi has a great opportunity to take centre stage, boost confidence in China and cultivate friendships.

He will be supported by a high-powered Chinese delegation that includes top business leaders like Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Dalian Wanda’s Wang Jianlin, Baidu’s Zhang Yaqin, Huawei Technologies’ Sun Yafang, China Telecom’s Yang Jie and China Poly’s Xu Niansha. 

Last year at Davos, China faced tough questions about its slowing economy; this year the main focus is likely to be its relationship with the US, as President-elect Donald Trump has been blaming China for unfair trade practices, manipulating the currency and taking the jobs of Americans (while Trump will have to wait for next year to make his Davos debut, members of his transition team will be there).

The Chinese delegation will understandably try to focus attention on the importance of open trade and investment while finding new engines of growth for the world economy, such as innovation and clean energy. Xi’s attendance at Davos will follow a state visit to Switzerland after the two countries formed an “Innovative Strategic Partnership” and agreed to cooperate on China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). 

China is also building an offshore-yuan market in Zurich. 

Apart from projecting China’s leadership on the international stage, Xi will also be playing to his home audience. 

Late this year the Communist Party will hold its 19th National Congress and although Xi is expected to be chosen for a second five-year term, as many as five out of the seven members of the leadership committee will be replaced. Xi will want to ensure his allies are selected, and a strong personal performance in Davos may help his cause by boosting his standing with electors. 

Coincidentally, the four-day Forum concludes on January 20, Trump’s inauguration day. Looking beyond Davos’ snowy peaks, it will be interesting to see if Xi’s Davos diplomacy can help warm the relationship between these two world leaders.

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