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Davos: China Light

by Elizabeth C. Economy
January 29, 2010

Contrary to predictions by the Wall Street Journal, this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos has thus far been China-light. No more than two or three sessions are China-centered.

Does it matter? Probably not. China is now raised as a matter of course in almost any discussion here, ranging from trade to renewable energy to global health. Everyone’s trying to understand how China will matter, but not so much thinking about China itself.

A keynote address by Li Keqiang, China’s vice premier, touched a bit on both issues. I found the speech mostly boilerplate – a drawn-out version of “China can best help the world by helping itself.” But others I spoke with found his confidence about the future of China’s economy and his commitment to “work together to address the global financial crisis” reassuring.

The best China-related panel so far, however, featured a discussion of the U.S.-China relationship. A few rather pointed jabs at the United States by some of the Chinese participants – regarding the inability of Americans to save rather than spend, as well as the failure of Americans to understand the Chinese perspective – elicited a rousing response from the American side that the United States wants and needs to cooperate with China but isn’t going to paper over the differences, of which there are a number. The message was loud and clear that the days of Washington playing nice in the (now clearly vain) hopes of getting like treatment are over.

And for those who continue to push the notion of a G-2 – nary a mention here by the Chinese, the Americans or anyone else.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by hanson

    nobody in Chinese elites and leadership want to “paper over” the sino-u.s. differences. They don’t have the fantasy of having u.s. come along under China’s terms. BUT, since u.s. ‘wants and needs to cooperate with China’-to my understanding, which more or less means U.S. needs China to cooperate more than before these days, what’s wrong with China to ask for more? what’s wrong with China to ask U.S. to listen and try harder to understand what China wants–understand the China perspective? Dont make it wrong: U.S. needs on China is increasing. It has to be willing to meet some of China’s terms too for that. This is the right logic for things to be done. This is the essence of the international politics. Although someone like Ms.Economy who is not so hot about China is very reluctant to admit and not willing to admit some hard truth.

  • Posted by Elizabeth Economy

    I have no problem with China setting out its interests and its demands for its role in the global system as well as for its relationship with the United States. I would expect no less. I do think that the United States already has quite a good understanding of what China wants. For example, China wants the United States to stop selling arms to Taiwan, to have President Obama refuse to meet with the Dalai Lama, to prevent the inflation of the dollar, to continue to buy Chinese exports, and not to ask too much of it with regard to the affairs of others (e.g. Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran, etc.), among other things. The United States, in turn, would like China to increase domestic consumption to allow for increased U.S. exports to China, to permit the renmenbi to float, to stop IPR theft, and to take a tougher line on issues involving non-proliferation, such as Korea and Iran, or gross human rights abuses such as those in Sudan or Zimbabwe. I look forward to cooperation between China and the United States; but at this point, common ground–except in an abstract commitment to world peace and stability, free trade, and global prosperity–is difficult to find. The real issue is whether and how we can expand the space of common thinking and action…a good topic, I think, for a future blog.

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