Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 30 October 2020

Davos 2020: Two models of capitalism on show in US and China speeches

Postcard from Davos: While the location was global in every meaning of the word, with an international audience in attendance, Mr Trump gave a campaign speech

US President Donald Trump seen during a meeting at the World Economic Forum. AFP
US President Donald Trump seen during a meeting at the World Economic Forum. AFP

The 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum kicked off on Tuesday morning, and the first major keynote address of the meeting drew quite a crowd.

Over an hour before he was due to address the forum, the President of the United States Donald Trump had chief executives, Ministers and journalists queuing to enter the hall he would be speaking in.

An hour before his address even began, the hall’s 1000 seats were fully booked, with people going to spill-over rooms to hear his address broadcast.

All simultaneous sessions halted. And yet, Mr Trump did not make any real headlines. It was his usual line on the strength of the economy under his presidency, his efforts to help “the American worker” and his country’s energy self-sufficiency.

While the location was global in every meaning of the word, with an international audience in attendance, Mr Trump gave a campaign speech.

Han Zheng, Vice Premier of China, spoke of the importance of a “open and inclusive global economy” and “making the global market pie bigger”. EPA
Han Zheng, Vice Premier of China, spoke of the importance of a “open and inclusive global economy” and “making the global market pie bigger”. EPA

The queues to see the president are ultimately indicative of the strength and influence of America. Every time a US president has spoken at an international event, he is the main attraction. Interestingly though, the Chinese are now becoming equally a hot-ticket item. Earlier in the day, a session to be addressed by the chief executive of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, was fully booked and the queue to get in was several metres long. In 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to a full hall and his speech was beamed on screens across the Congress Centre of the forum.

Davos attendees care about what where the world is going and how it will be led – so what the Americans and the Chinese say is of paramount importance.

And while Mr Trump made no mention of the United Nations, WTO, multilateralism or free trade in his speech, the Chinese Vice Premier, Han Zheng, gave an address yesterday afternoon that addressed all four. Mr Han spoke of the importance of a “open and inclusive global economy” and “making the global market pie bigger”. While the American president did not speak to the importance of global co-operation, Mr Han urged participants to reject protectionism.

The vice premier said “openness has become a trademark of China”. However this is based on “economic globalisation”, a term Chinese often refer to, rather than cultural “global globalisation”.

The first full day of Davos meetings was influenced by the two messages coming from the US and China. Ultimately, they represent two models of capitalism, and have the most influence over emerging technologies.

However, each also have their own approach to governance.

The leading European voice at Davos this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will try to provide a third way in her address tomorrow.

And as the UN celebrates is 75 anniversary this year, the address of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will be important in setting the tone for how global governance can tackle the challenges of globalisation in all its dimensions.

Updated: January 21, 2020 11:59 PM

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