Coming from the person widely expected to take over from Premier Wen Jiabao in 2012, Vice Premier Li Keqiang’s speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos had been eagerly anticipated.
Not that Li was expected to say anything too provacative to world leaders this week: Beijing keeps a notoriously tight ship and those hoping for a glimpse at the future economic policies of a new generation of Politburo leaders will likely have been disappointed.
In many ways Li’s speech was, in typical Beijing fashion, notable for what it didn’t say. Li carefully avoided any mention of the issue that was foremost in the minds of many in the audience, namely the valuation of the renminbi: He offered no clues as to whether or when Beijing might allow the currency to appreciate against the dollar.
It was also typical in its references to the US, which Li criticized openly for trade protectionism while launching a more veiled attack on the country for failing to ensure monetary discipline, and in his emphasis on boosting domestic consumption in China to ensure long term growth. The Vice Premier alluded to a number of positive ways to achieve this, from creating a health care safety net to subsidizing household appliances for farmers, although few of these are a significant departure from Beijing’s current policies.
One positive world leaders may take from Li’s appearance at Davos is the Vice Premier’s commitment to multilateralism. He told leaders that the world had to "continue working together like passengers on a same boat". Li said that the world should unite in the future as it did during the financial crisis.
But even these comments could be met with skepticism from abroad given his unwillingness to address the issue of renminbi valuation. As long as it maintains the renminbi’s close link to the US dollar, Beijing’s true commitment to multilateralism will continue to be questioned.