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As Xi makes Davos debut, US-China relationship in focus at World Economic Forum

Relations between the world's two largest economies are center-stage as Chinese President Xi Jinping looks set to make his first appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos later Tuesday.

Xi is expected to paint himself as a reasonable leader open to development, cooperation and globalization in an effort to win international appeal as his peer, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump who isn't attending the forum, advocates protectionism, explained Steve Wilford, Asia-Pacific director of Control Risks.

Davos, Switzerland gets ready to host the World Economic Forum this week.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Davos, Switzerland gets ready to host the World Economic Forum this week.

But the strong personalities of both leaders don't bode well for their economic relationship, which many fear will deteriorate once Trump enters office on Friday.

"The overarching risks facing Asia is the end of the consensus between China and the U.S. on the mutual benefits of global trade," Wilford told CNBC's Squawk Box on Tuesday.

Trump has indicated he wishes to exit the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the world's largest free trade pact, and has expressed a desire to officially label Beijing a currency manipulator. He's also publicly denounced the mainland's financial and foreign policies as well installed well-known anti-China officials in his cabinet—actions that may lead to chilled economic ties and impact the rest of the world.

Indeed, a trade war could draw in players far beyond the U.S. and China, such as the European Union that has seen an influx of Chinese imports, former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan told CNBC on Tuesday. "We should hope and pray that we don't get unnecessary action on that front."

Rajan also voiced broader concern about political leaders, noting that a number of political "newbies" will be in focus this year, including Trump.

"They all are under pressure to act strong but in a multilateral world, not everybody can look strong—someone has to give, and the question now is who's gonna give?"

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