China to boost global cooperation at WEF on ‘fighting COVID-19, economic recovery’
Asia, Europe stand closer as US in flux: analysts
Published: Jan 24, 2021 10:33 PM

World Economic Forum Photo: Unsplash

Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the Davos Agenda of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and deliver a speech via video link on Monday, as leaders of major world economies and international organizations are set to attend the annual forum which is to be held online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although US President Joe Biden is a notable absence from the attendee list.

According to the WEF website on Saturday, world leaders including Xi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will address how the virus has reshaped society and what policies are needed going forward in 2021, focusing on the central theme of "A Crucial Year to Rebuild Trust." 

They will be joined by people including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Xi's attendance at the virtual WEF is the first major diplomatic event in 2021 for the Chinese president at a critical time when the world remains engulfed in the COVID-19 pandemic and amid lasting disruptions to global cooperation from unilateralism orchestrated by the US, analysts said. 

"Rebuilding trust and increasing global cooperation are crucial to fostering innovative and bold solutions to stem the pandemic and drive a robust recovery," said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Forum, according to the WEF website.

"This unique meeting will be an opportunity for leaders to outline their vision and address the most important issues of our time, such as the need to accelerate job creation and to protect the environment," he noted.

Schwab emphasized "rebuilding trust" because mutual trust between major countries has been seriously damaged in the past few years when Donald Trump was president of the US, and now it is time to fix the problem and clean up the mess, Chinese analysts said.

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times that the voice from China will be essential and valuable for the world at this moment, as China is the most stable major economy which is providing strong certainty in an uncertain world amid the pandemic.

"China can connect the topics of fighting COVID-19 with economic recovery, and will further strengthen multilateralism by pushing the idea of 'a community with a shared future for mankind' which shows consistency with Xi's previous remarks at the WEF 2017," Li noted, adding that China could also voice support for existing international cooperation mechanisms such as the WHO, since the former Trump administration of the US has had a pernicious effect on international cooperation.  

Leaders from most major economies will attend the virtual event, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Mister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. UN Secretary-General António Guterres will also attend. 

However, Biden, the new leader of the biggest economy of the world, is missing from the list, with analysts saying that his administration is mostly consumed by domestic problems and so it has no time or mature ideas to deliver its voice to the world, as it might prefer to listen what would other countries say first. 

Wang Yiwei, director of the institute of international affairs at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, said that the WEF decided to hold the forum after the formal transition of power in the US, which shows its regard for the Biden administration. It hopes the new US president could attend via video link, but it seems the US is not ready to speak to the world. 

"Biden has promised to return to multilateralism and reenter some international agreements or treaties that Trump withdrew the US from, but to what extent he could fulfill his words is a question. Some unfair tariffs that the US imposed on its trade partners including China and EU countries are unlikely to be rolled back, so before the US take concrete actions to fix its image, its expression would be weak in the front of international community," Wang said.

Li said it is difficult for the US to make meaningful contributions to help others in fighting COVID-19 or in economic recovery, neither in offering vaccines or providing a stable and safe market, since its own epidemic situation is the most serious in the world, and it would be good news as long as the US makes no new troubles for others. 

"So other major economies from Asia and Europe will continue communication and cooperation to stand closer to handle common challenges. Even though the US leader is absent at the forum, the door for the US will stay open," Li noted.

The World Economic Forum will convene the Special Annual Meeting 2021 in Singapore from May 25-28. It will return to Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, for the Annual Meeting 2022. Experts said that choosing Singapore to hold a physical forum shows that the world has stronger confidence on post-pandemic recovery in Asia than elsewhere, and this could be regarded as a signal that Asian countries will play more central roles in the future as the pandemic in North America and Europe is serious and still uncontrolled.