On the first day, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered the opening speech in Davos, and stood out as a nationalist and a globalist: “Development is when all can participate and it is for everyone,” he told the audience gathered at the World Economic Forum.
The speech and references from the quotes of Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and the Upanishads—with emphasis on ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,’ in translation, “the world is one family,” was invigorating. And yet hard-hitting as it fit the conflicting global set-up we are forced to thrive on. His remarks on the three morbid conditions that distort global civilisation: climate change, terrorism and slow down of globalisation somewhat depicted the forum’s contextual slogan Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World. Associate editor of the Financial Times and chief political commentator Philips Stephens in his column says “Nobody has the faintest idea what this [slogan] means, but presumably it abhors America First economic nationalism.”
The Davos elites and the rest of the world were expecting a stellar show with America’s President Donald Trump’s first-time address at the forum. Trump, who at the time of his presidency campaign opposed globalisation and global elites is the first sitting president to attend Davos after Bill Clinton in 2000. Much to everyone’s disappointment Trump’s 15-minute speech was palatable. He spoke of America’s ‘resurgence’ as a ‘strong and prosperous’ nation.
However, there were slight implications made as he turned to trade, and said in reference to China that the US will ‘no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices.’ The ‘predatory behaviors’ as he described are ravaging ‘the global markets’ for everyone ‘in the US and around the globe.’ Addressing business and world leaders Trump affirmed “America is open for business and we’re competitive once again.”
His views, in part, were well-received: “It’s not enough to invest in our economy, we have to invest in our people,” Trump added “Only then can we have a bright future that is shared by everyone.” But following his every statement Trump’s secondary comment only sought acknowledgement in favour of Americans as predicted: “America first does not mean America alone. When the US grows, so does the world.”
While the audience observed two contrast speech from Modi and Trump, President of France Emmanuel Macron in his address argued differently, according to Joshua Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan. Macron strategically positioned France as a ‘model in the fight against climate change’ to set a world example in the future.
Referring to his meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, Macron appreciated the Chinese leader’s strong vision towards the Paris Agreement. Macron said: “The new Silk Road has to be a green road. We cannot have a coal-based route.” His vow to shut down all coal-stations in France by 2021 is in stark contrast to America’s current political push favouring fossil fuels for greater profits. This carried a round of criticism: whether Macron’s move is suggestive of France’s 2.2% coal power generation.
Professor Cole argues Macron’s assertive direction to bring quick change as consequential and meaningless: “For Macron this is the danger of the present moment: a relapse into a sterile nationalism that is incapable of addressing the real challenges posed by the present,” he wrote on The Conversation. The strong gestures and persuasive plans of both Macron and Trump at Davos led to a series of critical evaluation. Jay Zagorsky, economist at Ohio State University asserts that both leaders will not succeed in reforming the fundamentals of world economics.
“Politicians can claim all they want that they are for or against coal in Davos’ forums, making grand promises about ending the use of the dirty fuel or declaring their plans to make it cheaper to use as a way to protect jobs,” Zagorsky wrote. “No matter what they say in speeches, however, economic forces will inevitably dictate whether reality can match their words.”
On the other hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her speech was apprehensive on how the digital future is causing separation among Germans. The concern to protect citizens’ privacy is always there, but the divide comes as the younger generation look for digital interconnectedness just like their US counterparts. Merkel said: “The Europeans haven’t decided how we want to handle data, and there’s a great danger that we may be too slow, that the world may steamroll us as we conduct philosophical debates about the sovereignty of data.” As Elizabeth Hieneman of the University of Iowa reflects “Merkel’s—and Europe’s—quandary is this: how to move forward in the digital age when Europe’s contribution is to seek balance between state power, individual rights and the dynamism of capitalism. Achieving that balance—achieving any balance—means slowing things down. It means philosophizing.”
The audience did not witness a marked changed. Truth be told, political leaders at Davos held their countries high in terms of past and future reforms. But there was lack of distributed efforts by the leaders to collaborate and find shared interests especially with Trump’s ‘my country first’ vision. At global levels, the leaders are disoriented and constantly look for development under their democracy. The presented agenda is relevant but experts are lukewarm about the World Economic Forum and its influence to bring a meaningful change. It has evolved as ‘talk shop.’ Max Lawson, Oxfam International’s head of inequality policy, told Al Jazeera, “The main critique is that it is a manifest failure of imagination,” convincingly declines the forum’s potential effect on global reformation.