World leaders hold a virtual G20 event headlined “A Crucial Year to Rebuild Trust”, instead of the traditional January event in Davos, Switzerland.
China's President Xi Jinping has called on the world to strengthen macroeconomic policy coordination and bolster the role of the G20 in global economic governance as he pointed to a "rather shaky" recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum, a gathering usually held in a Swiss ski resort, Xi said the global economic outlook remained uncertain and public health emergencies "may very well recur" in future.
"We should build an open world economy ... discard discriminatory and exclusionary standards, rules and systems, and take down barriers to trade, investment and technological exchanges," he said.
The G20, an international forum grouping 19 of the biggest developed and emerging economies, plus the European Union, should be strengthened as the "main forum for global economic governance" and the world should "engage in closer macro-economic policy coordination", Xi added.
The international community should be governed in accordance with rules and consensus reached by all countries, instead of by one or several issuing orders, he said, without naming the countries.
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A "new Cold War"
Jinping also warned global leaders against starting a "new Cold War", and urged global unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
"To build small cliques or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others... will only push the world into division," said Xi, adding that confrontation will lead to a "dead end".
In a veiled swipe at moves targeting China launched by the previous US administration under President Donald Trump, Xi said confrontation "will always end up harming every nation's interests and sacrificing people's welfare".
The Chinese leader also reaffirmed Beijing's ambitious climate pledges to slash carbon emissions by 65 per cent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, both significant commitments as China emits a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases.
"Meeting these targets will require tremendous hard work from China. But we believe that when the interests of the entire humanity are at stake, China must step forward, take action and get the job done," he said.
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The international community should provide necessary support for developing economies, President Xi said: “Equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal rules should be strengthened.” #DavosAgenda pic.twitter.com/PMQCiBlwQZ— World Economic Forum (@wef) January 25, 2021
In the shade of coronavirus
Monday's schedule echoes the global economic picture, with Xi headlining as European policymakers, including European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde and French and German economy ministers Bruno Le Maire and Peter Altmaier, discuss "restoring economic growth".
The January 2020 WEF saw the global elite just starting to worry about a pandemic that surfaced in China a month earlier.
A year on, the coronavirus is leaving a mounting death toll, upending economies and depriving millions of people of work.
And initial optimism about a swift, smooth vaccine rollout ending the pandemic has ebbed in the face of distribution hiccups and new virus variants.
But China and Asian countries in 2021 are making a strong comeback from the virus that hit them first.
In virtual format because of the pandemic, this week's event is headlined: "A Crucial Year to Rebuild Trust."
The big names from Europe will be German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who heads the European Union executive.
Biden will not appear at the virtual Davos, which has never been a fixture on the White House calendar, even if the new administration has pledged to revive a US multilateral foreign policy after four years of Donald Trump's America First approach.
Trump had been an exception as he stopped in Davos twice, with the real estate billionaire enjoying mixing with the global business elite.
Biden is nevertheless sending John Kerry, the special climate envoy who will be welcomed after the new Democratic president brought Washington back into the Paris climate accord.
Showing up from Asia are China's and South Korea's presidents as well as the prime ministers of India and Japan.
Following the first virtual session, Davos will move in May to Singapore, far from the luxury Swiss ski resort where it has taken place since it was launched in 1971, the brainchild of German professor Klaus Schwab.
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The stated reason for the change is health and safety, as the city-state has recorded just 29 Covid-19 deaths.
And a virtual forum is not particularly attractive for the world's well-heeled movers and shakers, who value huddles behind closed doors in fancy hotels over meetings held under formal settings.
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'Chance to rebuild'
But there is also an economic background to the move underscored by French insurance-credit group Euler Hermes, who said in a study this month that the "world's economic centre of gravity" (WECG) has been moving towards Asia since 2002.
Booking growth of 2.3 percent last year while other major economies slumped, China is now on course to equal the size of the US economy in 2030, two years earlier than the analysts predicted before the pandemic.
"The Covid-19 crisis could accelerate the shifting global balance towards Asia," Euler Hermes said.
Xi last addressed Davos in 2017, presenting himself as the champion of free trade, much to the joy of Davos participants who feared the newly-elected Trump's protectionist moves.
Elsewhere on the agenda are workshops entitled: "Stakeholder Capitalism: Building the Future" as well as "Advancing a New Social Contract" and "Resetting Consumption for a Sustainable Future."
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In a column published in mid-January, Schwab said 2021 could be a positive and historic year, 75 years after the original "Year Zero" following the devastation of World War II.
"We once again have a chance to rebuild," he said, calling for rethinking capitalism in the light of a pandemic that has worsened inequality.
He said "Covid-19 has delivered the final blow" to the post-war model where free markets and limited government-produced prosperity and progress that now is "no longer sustainable, environmentally or socially."
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Oxfam urges radical economic rejig for post-Covid world
In a report timed to coincide with the start of the forum, anti-poverty group Oxfam said on Monday that inequality is rising in almost every country at the same time, a first since records began.
"It could take more than a decade for the world's poorest to recover," Oxfam said in the study titled "The inequality virus".
In a report geared to inform discussions at the World Economic Forum’s online panels of political and business leaders this week, Oxfam said the richest 1,000 people have already managed to recoup the losses they recorded in the early days of the pandemic because of the bounce back in stock markets. By contrast, Oxfam said it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover their losses.
“Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in luxury, while those on the frontline of the pandemic – shop assistants, healthcare workers, and market vendors – are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table," said Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International.
Using figures from Forbes' 2020 Billionaire List, Oxfam said the world's 10 richest people, including the likes of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett, saw their fortunes increase by half a trillion dollars since the crisis began even though the global economy remains smaller than when the pandemic started a year ago.
Meanwhile, using data specially provided by the World Bank, Oxfam said that in a worst-case scenario global poverty levels would be higher in 2030 than they were before the pandemic struck, with 3.4 billion people still living on less than $5.50 a day.
Bucher said women and marginalised racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis and are “more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare.”
While urging governments to ensure that everyone has access to a coronavirus vaccine and financial support if they lose their job, Bucher said policies in a post-coronavirus world should focus on ending poverty and protecting the planet.