At the “virtual Davos”, Asia in force, a reflection of a world economy in full upheaval

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Stronger exit from the Covid-19 pandemic, and while the United States is still in full transition, Asia is expected to dominate the World Economic Forum, which this year abandons the snowfall of Davos in favor of a completely virtual format.

The 2020 edition saw the world elite start to worry about a mysterious epidemic coming from China, while becoming more passionate about arms passes between Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to claim lives and disrupt economies, depriving millions of people of work or resources, the Asian continent is making a comeback for this 2021 edition, which takes place from Monday to Friday on the theme: “A crucial year to rebuild confidence”.

The guest of honor will be Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will give a speech on Monday.

Europe will be present via French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

The new Biden administration has undertaken to bring the United States back into the global multilateral game, but without this immediately passing through Davos, which is not a prerequisite for the tenants of the White House.

Donald Trump was an exception by coming twice, visibly tasting the welcome from the business world, which he readily claims. Before him, only one American president had made the trip to Switzerland, only once: Bill Clinton.

Asia sends the Chinese and South Korean presidents, and the Indian and Japanese prime ministers.

After this first virtual session, “Davos” will travel to Singapore in May, far away in the upscale Swiss ski resort where the event created in 1971 by German professor Klaus Schwab usually takes place.

The reason given is “health security”, the city-state, which has so far only had 29 deaths, being considered safer than Geneva, a time mentioned as a fallback solution.

It is indeed difficult for the organizers of the World Economic Forum to go completely virtual. For the big bosses who pay thousands of euros for their entrance ticket, the interest of the event lies less in the official program than in the deals concluded in the shelter of opulent hotels.

According to a study by the credit insurer Euler Hermès published this week, since 2002, “the world’s economic center of gravity” has gradually shifted to Asia. However, the Covid-19 epidemic, from which the continent emerged earlier, should accelerate this movement: in 2030, economists anticipate that Chinese GDP should equal US GDP, two years earlier than anticipated before the crisis.

“Rethinking capitalism”

The intervention of Xi Jiping, who had already taken the Davos podium in 2017, almost seems to be turning back the clock, as if the international business community wants to erase the Trump era.

Four years ago, to the great joy of a public devoted to this cause, he posed as a champion of free trade in the face of protectionist temptations from Donald Trump.

And this just before the Republican billionaire is invested, and Joe Biden, then vice-president of Barack Obama, leaves office.

The United States is however sending John Kerry, the special climate envoy, who will certainly be welcomed after the new Democratic president’s decision to bring the United States back to the Paris agreement.

“Promoting a new social contract”, “rethinking consumption for a sustainable future”, “building a positive economy for nature”: the titles of the WEF workshops, once again this year, have accents worthy of Porto Alegre, this city of Brazil, which hosted the “World Social Forum” between 2001 and 2005, a sort of counter-Davos.

In a column published on The Project Syndicate in mid-January, Klaus Schwab called for “rethinking capitalism” in light of a pandemic that has “exacerbated inequalities”.

In the form of a call to order to the Davos elite, the NGO Oxfam will release its traditional report on the gaps in wealth in the world on Monday.

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