US versus China dominates Davos

If “the future is e-commerce”, that may be an issue for both countries. Emily Hohler reports.

President Trump’s World Economic Forum speech was intended to reassure investors and business leaders that “America first does not mean America alone”, says Keith Bradsher in The New York Times. But to the assembled elite in Davos, it was clear that the “geopolitical momentum lay with Beijing, not Washington”.

President Xi Jinping wasn’t even present, but one of the best attended speeches was that of Liu He, a member of China’s ruling politburo, who was promoting the hugely ambitious One Belt, One Road infrastructure initiative.

Xi certainly dominated the event, according to the Chinese media – not physically, but through echoes of his “historic” and “enlightened” speech at Davos last year, says Shannon Tiezzi in The Diplomat. The whole conference, according to Chinese newspapers, boiled down to a clash of ideas: a “shared future” versus “America first”. Whether China won the “competition for global influence” is perhaps less relevant than the fact that China believes this to be so.

Regardless, says Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post, virtually every world leader present “articulated a defence of globalisation and policies that recognise and foster international ties”.

The irony is that Xi is “erecting a great protectionist wall” around China, says Irwin Stelzer in The Sunday Times. “Industries of the future are being subsidised, American firms forced to take on Chinese partners and turn over technology to them, intellectual property worth between $225bn and $600bn is being pirated every year, and tariffs block imports – 25% on American cars compared with 2.5% in America”. There seems “little doubt” Trump will retaliate.

He already has, says Liu Zhen in The South China Morning Post. On Monday, tariffs of 30% were imposed on imported washing machines and solar panels, of which China is the world’s biggest producer. During his speech, in a barely disguised warning to Beijing, Trump said that the US would not “turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices”.

Whether Trump’s speech was, as Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post puts it, unusually “forthright, intelligent and conciliatory” or, as Richard Cohen in The New York Times puts it, nothing more than a “rhetorical comb-over”, is likely to prove irrelevant, says Niall Ferguson in The Sunday Times. The “most interesting man” at Davos was in fact the “rather scrawny” Jack Ma, whose business – Alibaba – is “poised to take over the world”. The future is e-commerce, he said – and that is not
for “big companies or developed countries. It’s for developing countries, young people and small businesses. We should not let world global trade be controlled by 60,000 big companies. We should make technologies and policies to encourage six million, 16 million or 60 million businesses. Alibaba will make it happen”. For me, it was Ma who offered the best riposte to “America first”.

Trump’s actions will show the real state of the union

Most Americans will have forgotten what President Donald Trump said in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night, says Edward Luce in the Financial Times. By his standards it was balanced and calming. “But as any child knows, watch what people do, not what they say.”

The “doing” came earlier in the week. On Monday, Republicans voted to release a “partisan memo” by Devin Nunes, Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, which claims that the FBI and the Department of Justice are behind a “deep-state plot to annul Mr Trump’s election”.

It’s not surprising that within hours of his speech, US cable channels were all over the “secret memo”, says Robert Moore on ITV. Indeed, 2018 won’t be shaped by Trump’s speech but by Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 vote, who “must decide whether to charge the president with obstruction of justice”.

Monday’s move poses “a very serious question for American democracy”, says Zack Beauchamp on Vox. The aim behind releasing the memo – which “doesn’t pass the smell test” – appears to be to undermine the Mueller investigation.

The “war between the GOP and the FBI is about to begin in earnest”. The winner will be determined partly by which influential Republicans are “willing to defend the FBI’s independence”. With House Speaker Paul Ryan calling for a “cleanse” of the FBI this week, the signs aren’t encouraging.

Who knows to what lengths Trump will go to ensure loyalty, says Chris Cillizza on CNN. The abrupt departure of FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe shows the extent of Trump’s paranoia. McCabe’s crime? His wife ran for office as a Democrat and received financial backing from an ally of Clinton’s. That’s it.