China hosts “Summer Sessions” of the World Economic Forum

In recent years, many journalists have tended to be skeptical about the role played by the World Economic Forum in driving contemporary global political processes. The WEF is better known by the name of the town that hosts its plenary meetings, Davos, in Switzerland. A few years ago, when “world government” conspiracy theories were popular, the WEF was frequently listed among shadowy and exclusive membership groups as the Bilderberg Group and the Club of Rome which, supposedly, took decisions of major global significance.

At this stage, a few observations may be in order. First of all, it is true that the real global powers in today’s world are losing interest in the Davos Forum. In the author’s view, this interest peaked at the January 2017 meeting of the WEF, at which the Chinese leader Xi Jinping was the chief guest. That fact in itself was a clear sign of the way the focus of global processes has moved eastwards, after centuries in which they had been concentrated in the European and Atlantic space.

Such a shift was first predicted back in the second half of the 1990s by political scientists in the US, a country which has remained the current global leader (much to its own misfortune) ever since the end of the Cold War. Some strikingly prescient analysts determined at which moment the PRC would emerge as a second global “center of power”. Extrapolating the growth of the Chinese economy in the previous two decades, analysts suggested that this would occur in the second half of the 2000s.

And one indication that these predictions had indeed come true occurred in 2007, when that same WEF established the regional New Champions forum, which since then has been held annually, with the Chinese cities of Tianjin and Dalian taking it in turns to host the event. This year, the 14th New Champions Forum was held in Tianjin. Which leads us to our second observation – that the WEF’s activities are no longer limited to the Davos Forum. This highly influential (and, it seems, wealthy) organization holds a wide range of events in various parts of the world.

As for the New Champions Forum, it appears to have become one of the WEF’s most authoritative expert platforms, and it deserves at least as much attention as many of the other WEF events, such as the Shangri-la Dialogue held annually in the fashionable Singapore hotel, after which it is named, by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, or the annual Raisina Dialog, held in India.

The event held in Tianjin at the end of June was very far from humdrum: guests included Professor Klaus Schwab, from Switzerland, who had initiated the WEF back in the early 1970s, and former Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende, the WEF President. All in all more than 1,500 delegates from more than one hundred countries, including representatives from state authorities, the private business sector and scientific centers, took part in the most recent  “Summer Davos”. Those attending included several prime ministers.

Among the latter, the Vietnamese and New Zealand leaders deserve special mention. Both of those countries (along with a number of others, such as India) have recently been “courted” by Washington as part of its general policy of surrounding China with a ring of hostile countries.

At the “Summer Davos” opening ceremony, the Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang addressed delegates in a headline speech in which he made several interrelated points. First, he warned of the very real risk of a global recession, and insisted that the need to maintain a dialogue between the main participants in international economic processes has never been more urgent.

However, the policies followed by those participants, in particular the US, the EU and Japan, can hardly be described as consistent with this need. While China’s opponents have in recent months largely abandoned the term “decoupling”, as applied to economic relations, its place in their political discourse has been replaced by an even more fuzzy term, “de-risking”. When this term is used by politicians, it means something along the lines of: “We have no plans to cut China out of our economy, or decouple from China. But we do consider it necessary to prioritize our national security when it comes to essential technologies.”

However, since those same “essential technologies” are critical to the future of the global economy, the PRC naturally suspects that its opponents are just playing with words in order to hide the real fragmentation of the global economic organism, with all the negative consequences that will arise from such a process. This suspicion was clearly expressed by the Chinese Prime minister in his headline speech, referred to above. The fact that “de-risking” was included on the agenda of the EU summit held on June 29-30 served to demonstrate that China has very real grounds for its concerns about the future of its economic relations with its main foreign partners.

However, as yet the scope of the “de-risking” in question is very unclear. There are also signs of doubts among Western elites about whether “decoupling” their economies from the PRC would bring any benefits. Even a slight “decoupling”. For example, the Chinese Global Timescites a speech given by William Burns, head of the CIA, at a private event in the British city of Oxford on July 2.

Even a very “slight” fragmentation of the global economic organism risks undermining the ability to solve the mass of problems afflicting the “Global South”, which are currently at the top of the agenda in almost all international forums and require an urgent solution, or, at the very least, the beginning of this process. There can be little doubt that these problems play a central role in the tragic events currently taking place in France, although certain “local factors” are also at play. Those events should have served as a wake-up call for the entire “Global North” (without exception).

The essence of this problem was succinctly expressed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in his speech at the international Summit for a New Global Financing Pact, held in Paris on June 22-23. It should be noted that Pakistan, despite its “prominent” status as a nuclear power, is one of those countries in the “Global South” which are already suffering from the current global instability affecting many spheres, including the economy. As Shehbaz Sharif said in his speech, “It must be remembered that if the South is in trouble, the world can’t move ahead. We are like one body, and if one limb of the body is in trouble, it is painful for the rest of the body as well.”

But, in view of the almost unimaginable sums in dollars that were mentioned in the WEF forum in Tianjin (“Summer Davos”) when attempting to quantify both the accumulated mass of problems afflicting the “South” and the estimated costs of resolving them, there is no “if” about it – the South is already in trouble. Under these conditions, if the “Global South” is treated as a battleground between certain countries and their its global opponents, as participants in a series of recent G7 events quite unequivocally intend to do, it is inevitable that the efforts (if any efforts are actually made) to resolve the problems of the “Global South” will fail.

It is noteworthy that in Tianjin, the WEF leaders mentioned above spoke negatively about tendencies of this kind. And in the (11th edition of the) World Peace Forum, held in Beijing the following day, Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, who now heads the BRICS New Development Bank, criticized these tendencies in very unequivocal and harsh terms. All these statements have a single central message, which can be expressed as follows: it is madness for the members of a family to continue squabbling with each other when the home in which they all live is being engulfed by fire.

This simple truth was the clear take-home message from a series of international forum events hosted recently by the People’s Republic of China.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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