Our thinking

The view from Davos reported by Tim Payne

The power of the China story continues to dominate the debate at Davos

Knocked sideways for the second time in 24 hours by the fast moving phalanx of Justin Trudeau’s bodyguards, I am felled by the energy of a third Asian power play at Davos. Japan’s lobbying is getting the credit for bringing Canada back to the table on TPP. A timing master stroke in Davos week.

For many here, this was meant to be India’s coming out party; a week framed with Prime Minister Modi’s opening plenary speech and drawing to a close with India night, Thursday night. Sure enough, their lounge food is delicious, their contingent of 130 CEOs in attendance leaves China’s 100 in its wake. Davos regulars observe that Indian businesses get Davos and many companies have been coming for several years, using it, not least, for engagement with significant trading relationships. Modi’s speech was aligned to Davos agendas around the positive role of globalisation and the disruptive impact of climate change and technology. But its ambition was not as matched with rhetorical power and many delegates have been left wanting more.

In reality the power of the China story continues to dominate political debate. Conversations on cross-border investment become discussions on protectionist sentiment and how China businesses can address the reputational and legal deficit they face. Chinese CEOs have traditionally arrived more within a group delegation, but their major private companies in the tech and disruptive sectors of the economy are joining head on the debates on AI, cyber and the long-term impact on health and wealth. And to follow President Xi’s land-grab for the language of globalisation last year, Liu He, architect of much of China’s economic agenda and a Davos veteran of some 25 years, is clearly committing China to active and ongoing reform.

Now however, everyone is waiting for Trump. He has become a looming presence and orients almost every conversation from investment flows to security measures to the likely impact on the traffic down the main drag through the village. The Diversity Lounge has been running sessions all week, in a detailed program that has often been inspiring, engaging. Yesterday, Jamie Dimon was interviewed in the Lounge for an hour by two of his senior female colleagues at JP Morgan. Candid, insightful, Dimon had a far more substantive, critical but also optimistic take on America today, the reality of constant technological innovation in history, the critical need for infrastructure investment, tax reform. At one point he is asked if he will consider a run for office. There is an almost audible, hopeful, pause in the room. But he rules himself out and we go back to our wait.