Davos is coming to Asia

The World Economic Forum will hold its next annual meeting in Singapore, in a shift from its usual venue of Davos in Switzerland

Davos is coming to Asia
It probably won't snow at the World Economic Forum in Singapore next year, but European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde is still likely to attend. Image: WEF

(ATF) The World Economic Forum (WEF) will hold its 2021 annual meeting in Singapore, instead of its usual venue of Davos in Switzerland. The shift is due to low Covid rates in Singapore and also marks an implicit acknowledgement of the growing importance of Asia in the global economy.

“The change in location reflects the forum’s priority of safeguarding the health and safety of participants and the host community. After careful consideration, and in light of the current situation with regards to Covid-19 cases, it was decided that Singapore was best placed to hold the meeting,” the WEF said in a statement on Monday December 7.

“A global leadership summit is of crucial importance to address how we can recover together,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the WEF.

“The special annual meeting 2021 will be a place for leaders from business, government and civil society to meet in person for the first time since the start of the global pandemic. Public-private cooperation is needed more than ever to rebuild trust and address the fault lines that emerged in 2020.”

The in-person meeting will be held from May 13 to May 16 next year, later than the usual January date for the mountain-top gathering in Davos that has become a symbol of the global economic elites and group-think in their views.

During its usual “Davos week” period in January next year, the WEF will host a virtual event to promote an agenda which it summarized as: “Building a better future for work, accelerating stakeholder capitalism and harnessing the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.”

'Fourth industrial revolution'

The “fourth industrial revolution” is an attempt to define a blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital and biological worlds, which is typical of the way the WEF has tried to latch on to buzzwords and appear current since its foundation in 1971. 

The virtual event in January is expected to feature the usual Davos cross-section of government officials, business executives and would-be thought leaders online; while the Singapore gathering is expected to mark a return to the personal meeting opportunities that have become the main draw of the WEF.

Chief executives of the biggest banks in the world are regular attendees of Davos in normal circumstances, while politicians show up when it suits their needs.

China’s profile at the event has been steadily increasing in recent years, culminating in the attendance of President Xi Jinping on January 17, 2017, when he used his address to call for the world to resist trade protectionism and populism.

Xi’s speech was an obvious rebuff to US President Donald Trump, who was just about to be inaugurated and was not in attendance at Davos.

Chinese business leaders such as Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Baidu’s Robin Li have also been regular attendees at Davos, which is known for lavish parties after regular conference sessions have ended for the day.

First full WEF in Asia

The WEF has attempted to ingratiate itself with Chinese political and business leaders with an annual “Davos in the summer” meeting held in China since 2007.

Next year’s annual meeting in Singapore will mark the first time the full WEF gathering has been held in Asia, however.

The only time the main event has been held outside Davos before was in January 2002, when it was shifted to New York to show solidarity with the city in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 – and also to accommodate the reluctance of some US business leaders to travel to Europe at the time.  

The WEF initially considered moving next year’s annual meeting to another venue in Switzerland that offered more space than Davos – which is a village in the Alps – before deciding to make the shift to Singapore that was announced on December 7.

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Davos World Economic Forum Singapore Switzerland Covid Health precaution WEF ECB Christine Lagarde Klaus Schwab 4th industrial revolution May 2021