Where are Hu and Wen? One of the things commented on at Davos this year was the absence of China’s political elite. The country may have sent its largest ever delegation to the event in Switzerland, but the likes of President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-premier Wang Qishan were not among them.
One reason: Davos took place in late January and clashed with China’s Lunar New Year, a period when the senior leaders avoid travelling abroad. It has even been rumoured (in the Chinese press, admittedly) that Davos organisers might schedule future events with more of an eye to when the Lunar New Year falls.
But for corporate titans looking for the ultimate schmooze with Chinese decisionmakers, there are now a few alternatives. China offers a variety of high level ‘thought leadership’ conferences to offer an eastern alternative to the Alpine talking-shop. The island of Hainan has the Boao Forum (see WiC12), for instance. Last September Tianjin also hosted the World Economic Forum, an event christened “the summer Davos”.
However, an increasingly prominent addition to the list is the Beijing-based China Development Forum. It has rapidly emerged as a must-attend event. Invitations for this much cosier affair are now sought after. Why? It comes hard on the heels of the meeting of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (see WiC98) and guarantees the appearance of the top political figures.
Indeed, the star attraction at this year’s Forum – which started on Saturday and ended on Monday – was Li Keqiang. For most attendees, it was a rare opportunity to hear a speech by the man who is widely tipped to take over as prime minister next year.
Many foreign business executives made the trip to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse for the Forum, including Peter Voser (CEO, Royal Dutch Shell), Stuart Gulliver (CEO, HSBC), Andrew Liveris (chairman and CEO, Dow Chemical), Tom Albanese (CEO, Rio Tinto), Joseph Jimenez (CEO, Novartis), Peter Loescher (CEO, Siemens) and Khalid al-Falih (CEO, Saudi Aramco). Also in attendance were the head of McKinsey, the president of the Asian Development Bank, Nobel laureate in economics Michael Spence and Nicholas Stern (known for his work on the economics of climate change). By any definition, this was a high-powered group.
Such events are less about making news than networking. Li Keqiang, for example, kept on-message about the battle against inflation, while other bigwigs spoke about the recently inaugurated five-year plan, and the economic shift away from an export-dependent model to one more reliant on domestic consumption.
Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank, praised the new plan as one of the most important events in China’s economic development, as it shifted the emphasis onto improving living standards.
However, Stiglitz may have failed to grasp that this was not the ideal venue to unleash more controversial debate – for example, the American economist also mentioned data suggesting that the richest 1% of China’s population hold more than 40% of the nation’s wealth.
No matter: while Xinhua reported his positive comments on the five year plan approvingly, it dropped any mention of Stiglitz’s other statistic from its coverage…
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