Globalization According to Xi & Trump

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/10/2017 04:26:00 PM
China's already done the failed Great Wall schtick, but others are certainly welcome to try.
The purpose of rhetoric has been studied extensively in the social sciences. By saying certain things, what do people intend to achieve? Of course, what people say does not always correspond to what they do. Indeed, people say things they do not mean. That said, the weight of what some people say matters more than others. Today's case in point are the USA's orange-hued leader Donald Trump and China's newly-reinstalled "maximum leader" Xi Jinping.

The commentariat has noted how, since the beginning of the year, Xi seems to have taken up the mantle of the globalizer in the place of an ever-more inward-looking America in the age of Trump. The ongoing APEC meeting in Vietnam was a chance to hear both leaders on this topic back-to-back, and the contrast in rhetoric was fascinating. Xi expanded on his vision of economic integration as one of other countries--especially those in the Asia-Pacific--getting on board the China train. To no one's surprise, Xi did not mention heavy-handed PRC actions to assert dubious territorial sovereignty:
Xi painted a picture of a global order that would bring collective benefits, saying, "let more countries ride the fast train of Chinese development." [...] Xi’s speech glossed over regional unease over China’s rising clout while pledging free trade and stability [...]

Xi [...] said “the concept of globalization should pay more attention to openness and tolerance, while the direction should focus on balance.” China will “continue to build an open economy and work hard to achieve mutual benefits,” he added. “Opening up will bring progress and those who close down will inevitably lag behind.”
So, it was essentially more Xi the Globalist (With Chinese Characteristics). That is, there are hard to reconcile elements of maintaining party authority while fostering greater openness. Certainly, would-be investors in China would beg to differ with Xi's characterization of China becoming more open to unhindered operations by foreign concerns:
The comments signal a continuation of Xi’s drive to cast himself as a champion of global free trade as the Trump administration challenges China’s barriers to access for foreign companies. Earlier this year, Xi launched his push-back against protectionism in a speech to billionaires and government officials gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Still, while Xi has spoken strongly in support of the global trading order this year there’s been little tangible evidence of Beijing following through. In a January survey of 462 U.S. companies by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, more than 60 percent expressed little or no confidence that China would open its markets in the next three years. China still ranks 59th out of 62 countries evaluated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of openness to foreign direct investment.

In a major speech aimed at domestic audiences at China’s 19th Party Congress in October, Xi’s language on reform stuck closely to previous pledges while promising to make sure that China’s Communist Party "leads everything."
Now, let's get to Trump the Globophobe. Unsurprisingly for a third-rate businessman whose companies have gone bankrupt four times at last count, he's all in favor of protecting America from foreign competition. Let the WTO bashing begin! Trump is at least honest in making no pretensions about seeking to put America first relative to all potential trade partners:

Trump dwelled on regional flash points while criticizing the World Trade Organization and offering trade on America’s terms. Trump’s speech cataloged the ills of globalization, saying too many countries had flouted the rules for years with impunity, harming American workers and U.S. companies. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” Trump said [...]

Trump too laid out a path for how other countries could boost their economy: He offered economic partnerships with the U.S. but only through bilateral trade pacts, and he pledged never to again join a multilateral deal like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have bound the U.S. to 11 countries as a bulwark against China.

"I will make bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific country that wants to be our partner and will abide by the principle of fair and reciprocal trade," Trump said. Nations already have doubts about the U.S. commitment under Trump. After Asian countries tied up with America on TPP, Trump tore up the deal -- leaving them wondering if Trump was turning his back on the region as he pursued an "America First" agenda. When the U.S. enters into a trade relationship, Trump said, “we will from now on expect that our partners will faithfully follow the rules, just as we do. We expect that markets will be open to an equal degree on both sides and that private industry, and not government planners, will direct investment. For too long and in too many places, the opposite has happened.”
Insofar as Trump & Co. want to pull a fast one on you straight to your face, is it any wonder that countries in the Asia-Pacific are not exactly lining up to be one of Trump's patsi...I mean, valued trade partners?
“I doubt Trump will have many takers for bilateral deals, particularly given that he defines fair trade as the absence of a deficit,” said David Skilling, director of Singapore-based advisory firm Landfall Strategy Group. “Apart from Singapore, most Asian economies run sizable trade surpluses with the U.S.,” he said.

“It is not a very well thought-out strategy. A transactional, zero-sum ‘America First’ approach won’t do much to advance U.S. interests in the region,” he said.
In some ways Trump is actually more honest than Xi. Trump says the only trade deal the US can abide by is a bilateral one in which the US runs a surplus (that's easier for the US to end if it's displeased by running a trade deficit). That these terms are so incredulous is counterbalanced by the lack of pretensions about fairness. On the other hand, Xi premises economic cooperation based on mutual benefit when, in reality, it mainly seeks to further entrench Chinese interests in the region. Once accomplished, it will be harder to escape the PRC's gravitational pull.

Ultimately, then, both are self-interested: Trump's USA explicitly so, Xi's China surreptitiously so by cloaking outreach in terms of altruism the US itself once used. In many ways, the world has indeed been turned upside down.