China’s Xi Jinping’s pitch for moral world leadership has reached the point of surrealist absurdity.
His online speech to the World Economic Forum on Monday would have been fine if uttered by New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern or some paragon of the West. Such implausible rhetoric from the mouth of the Wolf Warrior strongman crosses into parody.
It is hard for the Chinese leader to recapture the magic moment in 2017 when he swept into the sanctum sanctorum of globalist liberalism, cheered by star-struck delegates as the new champion of free trade and the guardian of the international order.
Everybody was shell-shocked by America’s retreat into bad-tempered isolationism. They were appalled by Donald Trump’s attacks on the global institutions, most of them created by Washington after the Second World War and managed with such success for 70 years.
“Pursuing protectionism is just like locking oneself in a dark room: wind and rain might be kept outside but so are light and air. China will keep its door wide open and not close it,” he told them.
China would not do as others and “bend the rules as they see fit”, or “walk away from their commitments”, or “blame globalisation for the chaos of our world”. The gullible loved it. The better-informed winced.
This time one can only imagine how Xi’s digital pieties are being received. His speech had all the usual catchphrases: “The strong should not bully the weak, or threaten and intimidate others.”
He extolled the UN Charter and pledged to be a “resolute champion of the international rule of law”, lest the world “falls back to the law of the jungle”. And, as always, China will strive to build a “beautiful world”.