LITTLE EVIDENCE OF CHANGE ON THE GROUND
In addition to his public remarks at Davos, Liu also met privately the chief executives of large US and European multinationals. “They are reversing everything that has been done in the last three years,” one invitee told the Financial Times. Back on the ground in China, there is little evidence of any major changes of policy towards the technology and property sectors that support this claim.
Beyond believing and transmitting what Liu and other party elites tell them, trusted “friends of China” are also expected not to ask embarrassing questions.
The most important policy issue in China-EU relations, affecting all other bilateral policy issues, is Xi’s de facto support for Russia’s war on Ukraine. As one senior European executive puts it: “Everybody in the EU looks at China through the prism of Ukraine.” But the war, according to participants at Liu’s Davos meeting with chief executives, was not discussed.
Similarly, onstage after his speech, Liu took two soft questions from the forum’s founder and chair, Klaus Schwab. A more incisive interviewer might have seized on Liu’s comments about the importance of entrepreneurs and noted that when the vice-premier was last at Davos, in 2018, so was Jack Ma, who regaled forum attendees in his inimitable and always entertaining style.
“So where is Jack and when can he come back?” Schwab might have instead asked. Until China’s most famous entrepreneur is indeed free to speak publicly at Davos and other forums, Liu’s assurances should not be taken at face value.