Friday 19 January 2024

My reading of Davos 2024

 Davos in times of great uncertainty

Victor Angelo

Davos 2024 took place this week. As usual, the meeting brought thousands of participants to the Swiss ski resort, including politicians, businesspeople, academics, journalists, directors of multilateral institutions, civil society activists, and lobbyists. The president of Ukraine was present for the first time, as well as China's new prime minister, Li Qiang, Xi Jinping's political godson. Ursula von der Leyen and António Guterres were also present again. For obvious reasons, Russian leaders were not invited this time.

Participating in the Davos meeting means recognizing that you have power. It is not, contrary to what many think, a mere gathering of billionaires. Several will be, including leaders of corrupt countries. But many billionaires think it's not worth flying to the small Alpine town in the middle of winter. They already have an indisputable level of global influence, they do not need the validation of Davos or listening to lectures, which are often boring, from guest speakers, nor the networks of contacts that are the main reason for this annual initiative. In fact, Davos is above all an opportunity to make or reinforce contacts between powerful people, in addition to confirming that you belong to the club. Open sessions are often a repetition of what has already been said at other events or advertised in influential media. The most delicate issues are discussed in informal meetings, bilaterally, or in very exclusive groups.

This year the atmosphere was gray. On the one hand, there was the brightness of the international economic and financial situation, reflecting a positive end to 2023. On the other, the dark clouds of an uncertain and increasingly dangerous geopolitical situation. In reality, the geopolitical issue weighed heavily on the analyses and prognoses of many of the participants. Zelensky sought to provide a ray of hope, but participants know that much depends on the assistance that Ukraine receives, or not, to ensure its legitimate defense, from the USA, European countries, and other allies. The Middle East, China, and Taiwan, important parts of Africa and Latin America, all these regions contain unstable and explosive scenarios. The expansion of populism in Europe is another major concern. However, for a good number of participants, the greatest concern lies in the possibility of Donald Trump returning to power. The man is a brute who lives in a world of imbalances and personal revenge. It is a danger whose contours are unpredictable.

The other central theme concerned the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The large technology companies, all of them North American, were well represented. They managed to bring this topic to the list of major concerns. It is a fact that the most advanced countries will invest seriously in this area. The Chinese Prime Minister himself was clear on the matter: cooperation in matters of AI and international trade constituted the core of his intervention. China needs chips produced in the most advanced countries, at least for now, and international economic relations without obstacles or disputes. China's demographic size is simultaneously an advantage and a challenge to its social stability. This is what I would call the complexity of gigantism. A complexity that, on the part of Chinese leaders, requires a very prudent policy, both internally and externally.

The problem is that many politicians around the world have a certain dose of insanity. This is especially true in the case of authoritarian regimes. Rational behavior cannot be expected when the future of dictators may be at stake. At the beginning of 2024, it is essential to be prepared for bad surprises. This is one of the lessons I take away from observing the week in Davos.

Guterres also made a short intervention. He spoke fundamentally about climate change, and the need to regain people's trust in governments and multilateral institutions. And he inevitably mentioned humanitarian issues. He also made reference to the UN's work on regulating AI. All very correct and revealing of the vast agenda that the United Nations has on the table. But, in a context dominated by geopolitical tensions, some clear and striking phrases were missing. It seemed naive and repetitive. He missed an excellent opportunity to make the UN's proposals on international peace and security heard loud and clear.

Published in the Portuguese language on 19 Jan 2024 in the Lisbon daily DIÁRIO DE NOTÍCIAS.

AI translation to English

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