This year’s VIPS may be too busy putting out fires to think about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”
▶ China, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. are sending high-level emissaries ▶ “Geopolitical risks are becoming much more relevant”
The organizers of the World Economic Forum want attendees to focus on the challenges of the future: The theme of this year’s annual meeting is Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a catchall rubric that describes advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics. The problems of the here and now, though, are likely to be a more popular topic of discussion.
Among the assembled politicians, chief executive officers, and financiers will be several key players in simmering global crises—china’s stock market meltdown, the emerging cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Russia’s economic slump. The gathering is taking place a couple of weeks after billionaire George Soros, a Davos stalwart, warned that the China-induced turmoil in financial markets is starting to remind him of “the crisis we had in 2008.” Others are also voicing concerns. “This is a very stressful time,” says John Veihmeyer, global chairman of consulting
company KPMG, who’s heading to Davos. “Geopolitical risks are becoming much more relevant, and concern about them is accelerating.”
Undoubtedly one of the most in-demand guests at this year’s forum, which runs Jan. 20-23, will be Fang Xinghai, vice chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, who has the unenviable task of supervising the gyrating stock markets of the world’s No. 2 economy. He’s appearing on the second day of the conference, at a panel discussion on how China’s economy can n “shift gears without stalling”; it also features Ray Dalio, founder of thehe hedge fund Bridgewater Associates,ates, and Christine Lagarde, managing ing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Russia, another country looking oking to retain the confidence of internternational investors, is also wellellrepresented. It has dispatchedhed central bank Governor Elvira ira Nabiullina, who is joined by executives from state-controlled d lenders
OAO Sberbank of Russia,ia, VTB Bank, and Vnesheconombank— ombank— all still under U.S. and European sanctions. Nabiullina is s participating in a Jan. 23 session n on the global debt dilemma, a suitable able topic for a country trying to containntain a ballooning budget deficit.
Davos attendees hoping for insight into the spiralingiraling conflicts in the Middle East t are unlikely to be disappointed.. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who led his country’s talks with world powers to win a nuclear deal, will be wandering the halls of the Congress Centre. It may be hard for him to avoid bumping into officials from archrival Saudi Arabia, including Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, the kingdom’s former intelligence chief and onetime ambassador to Washington, who is headlining a panel on understanding Islam. Eage Eager not to miss a chance to buttonhole so many key negotiating partners in its last year in office, the Obama administrationadministrat is dispatching its most high-rankinghigh-r delegation to Davos. Vice Pre President Joe Biden will be accompan accompanied by John Kerry, Jacob Lew, and AshtonA Carter—the secretaries of state,st the Treasury, and defense, respectively.re
The Americ Americans won’t get an opportunity tot press North Korea to abandon its n nuclear-weapons ambitions during their visit. An invitation for the reclusive state’s leaders to attend w was rescinded after it tested wh what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb earlier this month.
Traditi Traditionally, Davos has been embrac embraced as a platform for rebranding by c companies and governments seekin seeking to burnish their reputations, and this year is no exception. Argen Argentina’s new president, Mauricio Mac Macri, is headed to the conference alon along with his finance and foreign affa affairs ministers, to try to convince inv investors that his country, which has de defaulted on its debts at least seven times, has turned an economic corner.
Further star power will be supplied by Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister and a reliable selfie magnet. He’s leading a much larger than normal delegation of ministers, mayors, and executives from the U.S.’S largest trading partner, and he’s also joining a panel on gender parity in the economy, along with Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, both Davos regulars.
The bottom line The turmoil in China’s financial markets and instability in the Middle East will be among the topics commanding attention in Davos.