The Boao powwow

Asian forum meets for the ninth time in China’s Hainan province

The Boao powwow

Bush: "I normally start the routine with jokes about dog poop"

Jackie Chan is no stranger to stealing scenes and at this year’s Boao Forum he certainly did that. The actor sparked controversy when he stated at a panel discussion that he was confused about the issue of “freedom”. Observing that both Hong Kong and Taiwan were “chaotic due to their freedom”, the actor added: “I gradually feel that the Chinese need some sort of regulation and control.”

His audience – which containedmany Chinese government officials – probably appreciated the endorsement. They may, however, have been more disconcerted when the action star said he would rather buy Japanese televisions than Chinese ones, for fear the latter would “explode”.

Chan was among the 1,600 business heads, political leaders and academics who gathered this year in Hainan – dubbed ‘China’s Hawaii’ – for the province’s annual powwow, held in Boao.

Delegates first met in the seaside town in 2001, and the Forum has since become the leading annual brainstorming session on the regional economy.

It has transformed the small town’s reputation too, says China News. Not much more than a decade ago, Boao’s three main streets were busier with chickens and ducks than delegates, and its leading thoroughfare was known colloquially as Crap Street.

This year’s conference theme was a topical one: “Asia: Managing Beyond Crisis”. But the three days of meetings allow more space for grandstanding than for serious debate. So Fu Chengyu, president of CNOOC – China’s leading offshore oil and gas producer – took the opportunity to attack growing protectionism. He claimed this has forced him to expand through joint ventures rather than acquisitions.

Lou Jiwei, chairman and CEO of CIC – the Chinese sovereign wealth fund – headed off on a different tack, with a tongue-in-cheek “special thanks” to those who had previously blocked his advances overseas (and spared CIC potential losses); “I am grateful for their protectionism. Thanks to this, I didn’t invest a penny in Europe last year.”

Like most conferences, the real value lies in the networking. And if you fancy a skinny latte with the prime minister of Albania, or you’d like to reminisce on last year’s late night out with the team from Burma, the Forum offers plenty of sideline opportunities. Among this year’s meet ups, Premier Wen conversed with members of the Taiwanese delegation and Lou Jiwei discussed investment ideas with Australia’s Fortescue Metals Group.

Also like other conferences, attendance at Boao tends to be lighter at the early morning sessions. Numbers dwindle again as the day progresses, says the South China Morning Post.

One response is to hold back the keynote address for late in the day. This year George W Bush did the honours, creating much mirth with tales of scooping up after his dog, and doing the dishes. He broke from his stand-up routine to talk a bit about terrorism and the financial crisis too. “From terror to terrier” was the China Daily headline.

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