China will break with a 30-year tradition by not sending high-level officials to the World Economic Forum at Davos, which falls this year in the middle of Chinese New Year festivities.
Beijing approached WEF organisers early in 2011 and suggested they move this year’s gathering to an earlier date, making it possible for senior Chinese officials to attend the event. “Can we imagine that this event takes place in Christmas?” asked Cheng Li, a China specialist at the Brookings Institution in the US. “A more telling point is that nowadays an international economic forum without the presence of China is an embarrassment, not for China, but for the forum organisers.”
China will be represented by Zhang Xiaoqiang, vice-minister of China’s National Development and Reform Commission and a regular Davos participant, and Donald Tsang, chief executive of Hong Kong.
Since 1979, when China formally joined the World Economic Forum at the dawn of Deng’s open-door reform, it has been represented by vice-premier ranking officials, and even premiers.
As the global financing crisis was unfolding in January, 2009, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, delivered a keynote speech at Davos, which was followed by a stimulus package of Rmb 4 trillon.
Observers believe that absence of senior officials this year may reflect Beijing’s focus on internal issues, especially in the run-up to the once-a-decade leadership shuffle this year.
“This year has particular political significance. Chinese leaders will do everything for the purpose of domestic politics, just like politicians in the US,” said Zheng Yongnian, a scholar of Chinese politics at East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.