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How divisive will Trump be when he speaks in Davos?

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-26 07:33
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum, attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

The news that US President Donald Trump will attend the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos and deliver a keynote speech there on Friday has shocked many and even sparked protests in several Swiss cities.

Trump's populist and nationalist rhetoric during his presidential campaign and in his first year in office is widely viewed as being the antithesis to the overwhelmingly globalist views at Davos. It's like having him speak at a Democratic National Convention.

White House officials explained on Tuesday that Trump's "America First" policy is not "America Alone" and he wants to tell the world that the United States is open for business and wants the world to invest in the US.

But facts are more eloquent than words. In the past year, Trump has announced the withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He has also cut funding to the United Nations and threatened to withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal. The US president also defied the strong global opposition to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Even on the key issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which Trump intends to talk about at Davos, he has repeatedly contradicted himself and members of his administration. In his first speech at the UN in September, Trump threatened to "totally destroy" the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, triggering an outcry against such a genocidal comment.

While on the trade front, Trump has pulled out the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and threatened to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement and the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement if the other parties involved-Canada and Mexico and the Republic of Korea-do not make unilateral concessions.

Just a day before he departed for Davos, Trump signed two orders imposing steep tariffs on imported solar cells and washing machines. The protectionist measures have dealt a heavy blow to the US and global renewable energy industry and drawn protests from both inside and outside the US.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have blasted Trump's protectionism and isolationism in their speeches at Davos in the past two days, although they did not mention the US president by name.

Richard Hass, president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, described Trump as turning the US from a preserver to a disruptor of the international order in his first year in office.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer released this week showed that trust in the US has suffered the largest-ever recorded drop and ranks the lowest among the 28 nations surveyed. And a Gallup poll released last week that the median approval of US leadership in more than 130 countries and regions was at a mere 30 percent.

In both surveys, China fared better than the US, a rebuke to some Americans who still try to defame China as a disruptor of the global order.

Indeed, the speech by President Xi Jinping at Davos in January 2017 was one of the most frequently quoted in the past year, often as a contrast to Trump's isolationist, protectionist and anti-globalization statements and deeds.
Xi was the star at the 2017 WEF when the world was haunted by the anti-globalization sentiment, in particular Brexit-Britain's departure from the European Union-and Trump's "America First" policy. The fact that Xi's words are still being cited at this year's Davos shows people's deep concerns over Trump's policies.

I hope Trump proves me wrong when he speaks on Friday in front of the world and business leaders who are clearly at odds with his policy.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

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