Xi Tells the World What He Really Wants

Xi Tells the World What He Really Wants

A close reading of this week’s revealing speech by the Chinese president.

On Jan. 25, Chinese president Xi Jinping gave a speech to the online version of the World Economic Forum’s Davos conference, with the lofty title “Let the Torch of Multilateralism Light Up Humanity’s Way Forward.” It was important not because it offered new revelations about Xi’s thinking or China’s ambitions, but because it provided a handy summary of how China wants to be seen by others.

Although much of Xi’s speech may have been completely honest and sincere, the public nature of the performance and some obvious inconsistencies suggest that it needs to be read with a careful and critical eye. How should it be interpreted, and what is the best way for other states to respond?

All great powers try to attract support and minimize opposition by presenting themselves in a positive light. China under Xi is no exception, and he went to considerable lengths to portray China as a rising but benevolent great power that only has humanity’s best interests at heart. He called for macroeconomic coordination to “jointly promote strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth of the world economy.”