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In a chorus, Chinese state media say Xi Jinping shaped this year’s Davos

China's President Xi Jinping adjusts his tie at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017.
AP Photo/Michel Euler
Even though he’s not there.
By Zheping Huang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

After debuting at Davos as a champion of globalization last year, China’s president Xi Jinping opted to skip the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum this week to fine-tune China’s global strategy. But his influence lingers on.

According to Chinese state media, he can take credit for shaping this year’s Davos theme, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.”

Multiple reports from Chinese media insist the narrative is developed from Xi’s 2017 speech in Davos, when he became the first Chinese president to attend the gathering of global elite. State news agency Xinhua in a commentary published Wednesday (Jan. 24) said that specifically, the theme draws on this Xi remark: “As long as we keep to the goal of building a community of shared future for mankind and work hand in hand to fulfill our responsibilities and overcome difficulties, we will be able to create a better world and deliver better lives for our peoples.”

In a separate article, it compiled a bunch of instances when Xi speeches referenced a “shared future” or “shared growth” or “shared aspiration.”

Quartz has reached out to the WEF for comment. In this preview last year (pdf), the WEF said the theme “aims to rededicate leaders from all walks of life to developing a shared narrative to improve the state of the world,” but makes no mention of any particular source of inspiration. Certainly, the words “shared” and “future” have appeared in public together before (pdf).

Xi’s big coming-out speech last year was widely seen as a rebuke to the “America First” stance of Donald Trump, whose inauguration was just days later. This year, he sent his right-hand man Liu He to address the world elite about China’s economic policy instead.

A Harvard-educated economist, Liu vowed in his speech Jan. 24 to tame China’s soaring debt and clear up its smoggy sky within three years. But he also made big commitments to the idea of globalization, and credited such efforts in large part to Xi. “Over the past year, in line with the propositions of President Xi, China has stood firm against all forms of protectionism,” he says.

After Liu’s speech, Chinese state media churned out a series of articles promoting the idea that the 2018 Davos forum has been shaped by Xi. Political and business leaders at the meeting will “seek consensus and collaboration on ‘a shared future,’ a vision converging with the China-proposed concept of ‘a community of shared future for mankind,’” wrote Xinhua. Another piece from Xinhua is titled: “One year on, Xi’s global vision sets tone for Davos brainstorming.” News channel CGTN also carried a report on the same lines.

Meanwhile, China Daily, which too is state-run, ran an interview with Davos mayor Tarzisius Caviezel which quoted him saying that organizers of the World Economic Forum had taken points from Xi’s speech last year and developed them into the theme of this year’s gathering. “What is important is that they did not just take one point out. The whole program was developed based on President Xi’s important thoughts in his speech,” says Caviezel, according to China Daily.

An aide to Caviezel told Quartz that the mayor did not make that remark. Corina Issler Baetschi, from the Davos mayoral office, said via email that the quote above was actually a remark made by the China Daily journalist after the mayor responded as follows to a question about the theme:

The agenda-setters of the World Economic Forum decide on their own about the annual topic of the World Economic Forum. It may be possible that they took important points out of President Xi’s speech and developed them into the theme of this year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum.”

Issler notes that Caviezel’s quote above was also misquoted. For example, Caviezel said “it may be possible that” organizers of the WEF took points from Xi’s speech to develop this year’s theme, but in the China Daily report those words were replaced by “of course.”

Quartz has reached out to China Daily for a response. The writer on the story, Fu Jing, in a Facebook post Jan. 28 denied changing quotes and said he based his quotes off a mayoral aide’s English translation of the interview remarks made in German.

Since Xi’s Davos debut, the narrative has grown stronger that China is poised to fill the leadership void US president Donald Trump has left on the global stage. Many would argue the rhetoric still outpaces the reality. Yet Trump, who is scheduled to speak in Davos this Friday, has done much in the last year to make China’s efforts to position itself as an alternative global leader easier. Already, many attendees are planning to walk out of his session to protest his “shithole” comment on African countries earlier this month.

Xinhua noted in its main commentary that political and business leaders in Davos are faced with “two fundamentally different outlooks” regarding the state of the world: One is Trump’s “America First” policy, and the other is “the Xi-style collaborative approach.” One approach would put “a bullet in the head” of globalization, while the other would put a better compass in its hands, argued Xinhua.

“The right choice is the latter,” it said.

Update and correction, Jan. 26: This article was updated with comment from the Davos mayor’s office, which noted that Tarzisius Caviezel is misquoted in the China Daily story. The correct quotes, as supplied by the mayor’s office, have been added to the story. An earlier version also reversed the order of Corina Issler Baetschi’s name.

Update, Jan. 30: This post has been updated with comment from Fu Jing, author of the China Daily story.

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