Xi Jinping to address gathering of world elite in Davos
By Chong Koh Ping
11 January 2017

BEIJING (The Straits Times/ ANN) - First World Economic Forum speech by a Chinese head of state signals that the time has come for Beijing to expand influence, say analysts. 

President Xi Jinping will be the first Chinese head of state to address a major annual gathering of the world elite next week, as China seeks to play a bigger role in global affairs.

Xi will attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss resort town of Davos on Jan 17, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said yesterday at a regular press briefing.

According to the WEF's chief China representative David Aikman, Xi will speak at the opening session of the meeting and is expected to meet world leaders who will be there. British Prime Minister Theresa May, outgoing United States Vice-President Joe Biden and South African President Jacob Zuma will be among the more than 3,000 attendees.

The Chinese leader will be accompanied by an entourage made up of some of China's richest and most influential businessmen, such as Jack Ma of Internet giant Alibaba and Wang Jianlin of conglomerate Dalian Wanda.

Xi's debut in Davos comes as China positions itself as a champion of globalisation amid a wave of protectionist sentiments both in the US and Europe.

"This year, because of the size and scale of the China delegation, we have Chinese voices in most of the global discussions," Bloomberg quoted Aikman as saying.

Previously, Chinese premiers, including Li Keqiang and Wen Jiabao, had attended the meeting. Last year, the Chinese delegation was led by Vice-President Li Yuanchao.

Analysts told The Straits Times that Xi's attendance at the meeting shows that the time has come for China to expand its influence on the world stage.

Having hit several significant milestones last year, the world's No. 2 economy has gained greater confidence in playing a bigger role globally, said economist Yuan Gangming of Tsinghua University.

He listed the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the success of the Group of 20 summit and the Chinese currency's official inclusion in the International Monetary Fund's basket of reserve currencies as some of the key achievements for China last year.

"Since the world has high expectations of China (to contribute more to the global community), we might as well go along with them," said Dr Yuan.

He said Xi would most likely take the chance to talk up China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative and reiterate Beijing's concept of mutually beneficial development.

"The initiative serves two purposes - to increase China's global influence and to help solve its domestic problems of overcapacity," Dr Yuan added.

The OBOR is an ambitious infrastructure and economic development strategy unveiled by Xi in 2013.

It aims to connect China with 65 countries over three continents via an overland belt that links with Europe and a sea route that passes through South-east Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Ding Yifan, a senior fellow at government-linked think-tank Institute of World Development, also thinks that Xi will focus on explaining how the Chinese-led initiative will be beneficial to all.

"The OBOR initiative is China's way of showing that it is willing to shoulder greater global responsibilities," he said.

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