Chinese President Xi Jinping extolled free trade and criticized “selfish, shortsighted” policies Sunday during a closely orchestrated gathering of a Beijing-led bloc, standing in stark contrast with the G-7 summit that ended in disarray over trade tensions. “We should reject selfish, shortsighted, narrow and closed-off policies. We must maintain the rules of the World Trade Organization, support the multilateral trade system and build an open global economy,” Xi said.
Though his remarks did not mention President Donald Trump, Beijing has sought to portray itself as a defender of free trade in response to the American leader’s support for import controls. This is despite China’s status as the most-closed major economy. Xi also hailed the entry of new members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, calling the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain “of great historic significance” in opening remarks at this weekend’s summit of in the northern Chinese port of Qingdao. Their two South Asian nations joined the bloc as full members last year.
With tight security, closed roads and restricted press access, the summit’s choreographed show of unity was a striking contrast to the tumultuous Group of Seven summit of leading industrialized nations that concluded Saturday in Quebec and saw the United States and its allies divided by escalating trade tensions. Trump lashed out at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an extraordinary set of tweets from Air Force One, calling him “dishonest & weak” and retracting the U.S. endorsement of the G-7 summit’s communiqué.
The Beijing-led bloc, which experts see as seeking to challenge the Western-led order, is dominated by China and Russia and also includes Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Founded in 2001, it was originally conceived as a vehicle for resolving border issues, fighting terrorism, and — more implicitly — to counter American influence in Central Asia following its invasion of Afghanistan.
The summit comes as Russia and China have boosted ties in response to the U.S. national security strategy that describes them as America’s top adversaries. “We should reject the Cold War mentality and confrontation between blocks,” Xi said, adding that the countries should “oppose the practices of seeking absolute security of oneself at the expense of the security of other countries.”
In recent years, the Shanghai bloc’s economic component has grown more prominent, embodied in Xi’s signature, trillion-dollar foreign policy and infrastructure drive known as the Belt and Road Initiative. Xi announced that China would offer $4.7 billion in loans through the bloc, highlighting its economic aspect. Beijing’s infrastructure projects in Central Asia make some in the bloc uncomfortable — particularly India, which alone among members has refused to endorse the program. Russia, too, is wary of China’s expanding influence.