Commentary / World

Xi: Smooth talker vs. brass knuckle operator

by Stephan Richter

The Globalist

Exactly two years ago, in his first appearance before the World Economic Forum in Davos, China’s President Xi Jinping created a global splash when he presented himself as “Mr. Global Responsibility” in his strong defense of economic globalization (jtim.es/g8Bo30no440).

As Xi emphasized then, “economic globalization has created new problems. But this is no justification to write off economic globalization altogether. Rather we should adapt to and guide globalization, cushion its negative impact, and deliver its benefits to all countries and all nations,” he declared suavely.

As he added then, “the global economy is the big ocean you cannot escape from” and China, said Xi, had “learned how to swim.”

Since that moment, the world community has been waiting for how Xi would exactly follow up on his noble-sounding principles and intentions. To date, for all the very smooth words Xi spoke in his January 2017 maiden speech in Davos, we haven’t seen much.

However, where China under Xi’s management has strongly shown its hand in the meantime is in the arena of global human rights. But has not occurred in a manner that would seem in any way compatible with the noble and high-minded Xi in the Davos 2017 edition. Instead, operating in a rather brass knuckle manner, as James Dorsey has detailed, China is leading the charge to undermine universally accepted concepts of human rights accountability and justice, evidently to create a brand of human rights with some very “Chinese characteristics.”

A key part of that Chinese campaign, as Freedom House has credibly detailed (jtim.es/IwrI30no45c), is to provide a tantalizing offer to dictators and autocrats elsewhere: Let us help you by allowing us to penetrate your country’s IT infrastructure as well as the media sector to control the flow of information and better control dissent.

If anything, this is a very peculiar, in fact poisonous way for China to invest and apply the monetary and technological fruits it has so eagerly collected from the process of economic globalization.

Making these technologies an item an China’s global export agenda is, of course, a tit-for-tat replay of the tools and strategies that Chinese leaders use so successfully and perniciously in their home society.

One must wonder whether creating an export market for such human control technologies is the responsible form of economic globalization that Xi really had in the back of his mind when he impressed — and stunned — pretty much everybody with his smooth operator speech two years ago in Davos.

Despite the clearly attached Chinese strings that come along with such an offer, the reason why the Chinese can have their way is self-evident: Autocrats everywhere have a strong desire to control their peoples as closely and effectively as possible.

What is especially ironic about the contemporary efforts by China’s leaders to support other autocrats globally is that this control-freak strategy, intended to oppress popular dissent harshly and systematically by “virtue” of mind control, puts the Chinese Communist Party in direct conflict with its own genesis.

It sprang in the 1940s from a determined revolutionary movement that sought to respond to, if not foment, popular protests and a high degree of popular dissatisfaction with the country’s economy and politics at the time.

But that insight is just about the last thing that the smooth-talking and always suave-looking Xi would ever worry about. That’s just not part of the CCP brand of “Chinese characteristics.”

Stephan Richter, based in Berlin, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist, a daily online magazine on the global economy, politics and culture, which he founded and launched in January 2000. He also is the president of The Globalist Research Center. www.theglobalist.com