George Soros launched an attack on China's president Xi Jinping, singling out advancements in artificial intelligence in the hands of repressive regimes as a "mortal threat" to societies around the world.
In a provocative speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the billionaire philanthropist and proponent of open societies said China was not the only authoritarian regime in the world but it was the wealthiest, strongest and technologically most advanced.
“This makes Xi Jinping the most dangerous opponent of open societies,” he said.
Mr Soros drew attention to China’s social credit system, which consolidates individuals’ personal data in a central repository and is designed to judge a person’s trustworthiness. When it becomes operational, Mr Soros said, the database would “give Xi total control over the people.”
The 88-year-old, whose fortune was made through big bets in the hedge fund industry including most famously against sterling in the early 1990s, has often used his Davos appearances to warn of dangers to the rules-based democratic world order.
Last year, he took aim at tech platforms, which prompted social media group Facebook to question whether he was betting against its stock. On Thursday evening, he said his aim was to call attention to the Chinese threat.
An outspoken critic of US president Donald Trump and a bogeyman for populist leaders around the world, Mr Soros said the Trump administration had developed "a coherent policy" towards China.
Mr Trump was notoriously unpredictable, he declared, but the US government had rightly identified China as a strategic rival.
He called for an American response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which he said was designed to promote the interests of Beijing rather than those of recipient countries. He singled out China’s actions in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Pakistan.
“[China’s] ambitious infrastructure projects were mainly financed by expensive loans, not by grants, and foreign officials were often bribed to accept them,” he claimed. “Many of these projects proved to be uneconomic.”
He appealed to the US administration to take more effective steps to address the Chinese threat, including cracking down on telecom equipment providers ZTE and Huawei, which he said could present an unacceptable security risk for the rest of the world.
“China is an important global actor. An effective policy towards China can’t be reduced to a slogan. It needs to be far more sophisticated, detailed and practical; and it must include an American economic response to the Belt and Road Initiative,” he said.
Mr Soros suggested that there was domestic opposition to Mr Xi – and hope for change in China. “Since Xi is the most dangerous enemy of the open society, we must pin our hopes on the Chinese people, and especially on the business community and a political elite willing to uphold the Confucian tradition,” he said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019