LONDON — Before his appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January, Mr Xi Jinping’s advisers presented him with four drafts of a speech for the annual gathering of global elites.
According to two people familiar with the Chinese president’s preparations, Mr Xi chose to give the softest version, presenting China as an environmentally friendly champion of globalisation and free trade.
Beijing has since rushed to secure what Chinese officials call the “strategic opportunity” arising from Mr Trump’s election victory, by accelerating efforts to repair long-strained relations with two traditional US allies in the region, the Philippines and Japan.
China has offered Manila generous infrastructure deals and taken steps to attract new investment by Japanese multinationals.
The new Chinese charm offensive is a carefully calculated response to growing doubts in the region about the reliability of the US, as Beijing seeks to alter the balance of power in east Asia.
Along with Taiwan, which enjoys de facto independence but is regarded by China’s ruling Communist party as a province it will one day reclaim, the Philippine and Japanese archipelagos are critical pieces in a US-aligned “first island chain” that Beijing strategists believe has long been used to contain the Chinese military’s ability to project power in the western Pacific.
“There is a sense in Asia that Trump’s election may portend a dramatic power shift,” says Jake Sullivan, the Democratic former foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
The softer approach represents a sharp change in tack for Mr Xi.
After nearly a decade of increasingly abrasive treatment of its neighbours, especially over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the new tactics place much more emphasis on diplomacy and economic inducements.