By Warren Fernandez ,The Straits Times/Asia News Network
China’s premier Li Keqiang went hiking in the Swiss Alps around Davos just before addressing delegates at the World Economic Forum (WEF) held here last week. ��Peaceful and tranquil�� was how he described the view from the scenic ski resort. But Davos during the week when the WEF comes to town for its annual global forum is anything but peaceful and tranquil. Thousands of business, political and civic-society leaders, as well as their staff and the media, take over the entire town, spilling over into the neighboring ski village of Klosters as well. The entire area comes under a security lockdown with police everywhere, on the ground and on rooftops, as well as in helicopters hovering above. The delegates attend a bewildering array of lectures, discussions, dinners, parties and nightcap networking sessions, all ostensibly geared toward figuring out the key issues facing the world, and how best to go about addressing them. What happens on the sidelines is often as interesting, and perhaps more important or lucrative, with leaders forging deals or collaborations, and generally taking the measure of each other. So, what is one to make of all this top-tier hobnobbing? What were the key points to emerge from the hours of discussions? As I head home from Davos, here are some takeaways:
Trust This was the most bandied-about word the entire week, with much lamenting on the declining levels of trust, both within and between societies. Stalling economies and mounting income inequalities have led many, especially the young, but also the middle classes, to grow disillusioned about economic and political systems. This had contributed to a sense that ��leaders are failing to lead�� but are giving in to populist pressures, as one delegate put it. Alternative groups pushing nationalist and populist quick fixes are drawing support and posing a threat to mainstream parties, which could prove significant in elections due in several countries this year. Dr. Robin Niblett, director of the British think-tank Chatham House, summed up this view thus: ��Governments are being de-legitimized in many parts of the world. They are struggling to keep up.�� The best antidote to these political uncertainties is economic growth, as several people, including Brazil’s Itau Unibanco chief executive officer Roberto Setubal, have argued. He said: ��To reduce inequality, the best answer is growth.�� Agreeing, Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, added: ��Growth must touch everybody and lift everybody if it is to be sustainable.�� But efforts to build trust will also be needed between states, given growing tensions between Russia and the West, among China, Japan and South Korea, as well as between key players in the Middle East, if historic rivalries are to be tamed. Recent terrorism-related events, such as the Islamists’ attacks in Paris last month, have also brought to the surface long-simmering suspicions, and even hostility, among Muslims, Christians and Jews. These make efforts to foster trust, understanding and goodwill among different faiths all the more urgent, to defeat those who seek to use age-old divides of race and religion for their own power-grabbing ends.