A Number Of Heads Of State Are Absent At This Year's World Economic Forum

Jan 23, 2019
Originally published on January 23, 2019 4:40 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This week, a sleepy ski village in Switzerland is the stomping ground of the global elite. We are talking Davos. We are talking the annual World Economic Forum where corporate titans rub shoulders with political leaders. This year, though, a number of heads of state are no-shows because of trouble at home. And that includes President Trump. NPR's Gregory Warner, though, has managed to make it to Davos. He's on the line now. Hey, Gregory, how are you holding up?

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Well, it's freezing cold. At least, I have my crampons, like every other delegate here has been issued. It's what they call ice spikes so we don't slip on the icy sidewalks.

KELLY: (Laughter) I want to dive in and start in an unusual way. I rarely begin our coverage of a gathering by describing who's not there, but there's a whole lot of important names who are not there at Davos this year.

WARNER: Definitely. And President Trump is definitely not the only no-show. You have the French president who canceled because of the yellow vest protests Theresa May, British prime minister, is not here. She's dealing with the fallout over the failed Brexit vote. And Justin Trudeau of Canada is not coming because he was criticized for spending too much money at Davos last year. You know, it says something that all these leaders are cancelling because of anti-elite sentiments in their own countries.

KELLY: President Trump says he canceled because of the shutdown. He pulled the whole U.S. delegation out. What has been the reaction to that absence?

WARNER: Well, the U.S.-China relationship is definitely talked about a lot here at Davos. It matters so much to so many smaller countries and to Europe. But there has been a kind of tit for tat playing out between the U.S. and China right here at Davos. And it started yesterday when the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was beamed in by Videotron from D.C. to Davos, and he said, look; the U.S. trade relationship with China has to be balanced. He used the word rebalanced. He said, look; Chinese companies are free to work in the U.S. undisturbed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: American companies should be permitted to do that as well without having to have a mechanism by which the technology that they're providing will be forced to be transferred.

WARNER: Now, today, the vice president of China, Wang Qishan, forcefully responded to that. First, he uses the exact same word. He said that there should be a rebalancing, but it should be that China assumes its rightful place in the world. And then he talked about the theft of intellectual property, technological know-how. He said in every market there's going to be some level of theft, and to call for no theft would be idealistic. And it sounded definitely like he was saying, look; if you want to do business in China, you got accept some level of thievery.

KELLY: And I'm sorry, but I'm hung up on this image, Gregory. The vice president of China was there in person, but Secretary Pompeo beamed in and - what? - was on, like, a giant screen in the middle of this?

WARNER: It was a little Big Brother-ish. I mean, yeah, it was a giant, giant Videotron screen in a room of thousands of people.

KELLY: We should note Davos, I mean, the heart of it is - it's a celebration of free trade. What were other world leaders saying there, you know, about that and about the U.S.-China trade spat that we're watching play out?

WARNER: Yeah. It's a celebration of global cooperation, right? But this year, it felt like every world leader who addressed the crowd was kind of talking about that they have their own style of capitalism. So Angela Merkel of Germany said that European capitalism is different than American and Chinese systems because it cares about the privacy of the individual. And then New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, youngest female head of state in the world, she said that what's different about her government system that she wants to put in is that they're going to care not just about economic health of its citizens but their societal well-being. And, you know, it felt like honestly globalization 4.0, which is the theme of this Davos this year, is all about - I don't know - defending your own turf.

KELLY: NPR's Gregory Warner reporting from a different kind of Davos in Switzerland this year. Thanks so much, Gregory.

WARNER: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: And Gregory Warner is host of NPR's podcast Rough Translation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.