China is a big country. It has the world’s second-largest economy, a mighty military and huge population, and what and how China does matters.
One recent case gave a good illustration of how easily a Chinese decision could affect people’s lives here in Korea: China’s decision to ban imports of plastic waste led local recyclers to refuse to collect plastic bags, which resulted in heaps of waste lying here and there.
So it is important what kind of leadership a country with such tremendous influence has. No wonder many closely follow what Chinese President Xi Jinping says and does.
Last week, Xi, using the annual conference of the Boao Forum for Asia, sought to express his confidence in leading the fast-rising superpower his way. For Xi, who had just been re-elected president, the conference -- dubbed the Asian answer to the Davos Forum -- was a perfect occasion to deliver such a message. The year 2018 also marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up initiated by the late Deng Xiaoping.
Speaking on several occasions during the conference, Xi lauded the Chinese for unleashing and enhancing productivity through hard work with an unyielding spirit over the past 40 years.
“Today, the Chinese people can say with great pride that reform and opening up, China’s second revolution if you like, has not only profoundly changed the country but also greatly influenced the whole world,” he said in his keynote speech at the forum’s opening ceremony.
Xi noted that China’s gross domestic product has averaged an annual growth rate of around 9.5 percent in comparable prices and that its foreign trade has registered annual growth of 14.5 percent.
According to current UN standards, more than 700 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty, accounting for more than 70 percent of the global total over the same period.
“The Chinese people have emerged from a life of shortages and poverty and are now enjoying abundant supply and a moderately prosperous life,” a confident Xi said.
Xi’s announcement in the Boao Forum of measures to further open up the Chinese economy reflects such a confidence. In one sense, the measures mean that China has become strong enough to open its doors wider to foreign competition.
The plans, which Chinese media called “landmark measures,” include those on liberalizing the financial market, cutting auto tariffs, protecting intellectual property, expanding imports and improving the environment for foreign investors.
As Xi’s pledge came amid a series of tit-for-tat tariff retaliations between China and the US, some took it as a reconciliatory move. But instead of touching on the trade dispute with the US, Xi only tried to paint his image as a leader who advocates globalization, free trade and multilateralism.
But only three days after he opened the Boao Forum with statements full of such rhetorical flourishes, Xi demonstrated his assertiveness by reviewing -- in military uniform -- the largest-ever Chinese naval parade in the South China Sea. He was apparently sending a message to the US and other countries in the region, including Taiwan, with which China has territorial disputes.
A confident and assertive leader of a powerful country gives trust and comfort to its people and friendly nations, but could cause anxiety and fear among some of its neighbors.
In Boao, Xi called for abandoning “Cold War and zero-sum mentality,” building “a community with a shared future for mankind” and making Asia and the world “peaceful, tranquil, prosperous and open.” Such a noble goal can be achieved only when the Chinese leader translates his words into action and assumes a great responsibility as a respectable member of the international community.