Xi to open virtual Davos forum as virus-hit West struggles

Chinese President Xi Jinping. AFP/STR

PARIS - Chinese President Xi Jinping was on Monday slated to open an all-virtual World Economic Forum, with his country still appearing on track to emerge stronger from the coronavirus pandemic that continues to wreak havoc elsewhere.

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".

US President Joe Biden will be absent from the week-long online gathering, as he tackles urgent and daunting challenges at home.

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The January 2020 WEF, which took place in its usual Swiss Alpine resort of Davos, 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.

READ: Most Asia stocks down after gains, China growth beats expectations

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.

Showing up from Asia are China's and South Korea's presidents as well as the prime ministers of India and Japan.

READ: IMF lowers China growth forecast to 7.9% for 2021

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. 

The stated reason for the change is health and safety, as the city-state has recorded just 29 COVID-19 deaths.

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 in formal settings.

Source
AFP

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