Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 2017. 
Ruben Sprich / REUTERS

Chinese President Xi Jinping is treading on dangerous ground. In his speech before the World Economic Forum’s annual conclave of political and economic luminaries in Davos, Xi set out to establish himself as the standard-bearer for globalization and China as a beneficiary from globalization in the past and a leader in the future. Many observers have been quick to support China’s claim to a leadership position, not only because China wants the job but also because the United States appears not to. Rhetoric from the incoming U.S. leadership, with its threat of high tariffs and trade wars, has a distinct antiglobalization flavor. Yet whatever path Washington elects moving forward, anointing China as the world’s “champion of globalization” would be a mistake.       

Certainly China has already assumed many of the trappings of global leadership. It is the world’s largest trading power, it boasts the largest standing

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  • ELIZABETH ECONOMY is C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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