Officials from Communist China are expected to dominate this year's annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. (Photo by WANG Zhao - Pool/Getty Images)


Will China try to ‘sow seeds of disruption’ at WEF meeting?


Officials from China are expected to dominate this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Kicking off in Davos, Switzerland on January 15, the conference is expected to centre on how “establishment politics” can regain credibility in the global political sphere amid the rise of populism on the Left and Right.

The growing economic power, and otherwise, of China is also set to be a major theme of the 2024 gathering, with Beijing sending 10 ministers.

They include Premier Li Qiang – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s second-in-command – who is set to be the first major international figure to address the conference.

The high-profile Chinese delegation has reportedly spooked US President Joe Biden’s Government. The country’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken is said to be planning to meet senior Swiss officials to make sure America is not “falling under the influence” of Beijing.

Harry Halem, a Senior Fellow at the Yorktown Institute in Washington DC, told Brussels Signal: “China’s dispatch of its largest-ever delegation to the WEF has naturally startled American policymakers, particularly in light of Xi Jinping’s pledge to ‘reunify’ Taiwan with the mainland, repeated during his New Year address.”

Halem added that the plus-sized delegation was being sent at a time when Europe and the US appear “unstable”, with both facing elections that may well prove divisive.

“China almost certainly hopes to exploit the political tumult of the summer and autumn,” he said.

“Although its delegation is unlikely to achieve a substantive breakthrough on major economic or diplomatic issues, the visual presence of a large Chinese delegation is more than enough to sow the seeds for future diplomatic disruption.”

Chinese media outlets have claimed the country’s WEF mission is to ensure the continuation of “free and open” trade worldwide.

Speaking to Chinese news outlet the Global Times, one Chinese foreign ministry representative said: “In a world fraught with uncertainties and a struggle to find drivers for growth, we look to increase exchanges and communication and enhance mutual understanding and trust with other parties to the forum to contribute our part to better global economic recovery and governance and joint response to challenge.”

The article went on to emphasise that the Chinese mission to the WEF was in line with the theme of this year’s meeting: rebuilding trust.

The annual conference has become the focus of increased criticism over the past decade, with populists frequently attacking those who attend it as being “out of touch with everyday people”.

Such has prompted those involved to try to rebuild the organisation’s global public image and that of mainstream politics more generally.

The group’s Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab said recently: “We face a fractured world and growing societal divides, leading to pervasive uncertainty and pessimism.

“We have to rebuild trust in our future by moving beyond crisis management, looking at the root causes of the present problems and building together a more promising future.”

Others will be focused on more than just rescuing their reputations, with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the meeting in the hopes of rallying more support for his country in its defence against Russia’s aggression.

Having been to some extent pushed out of the world spotlight by the Hamas-Israel war and the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, Kyiv is now pushing to maintain and reinforce international interest in the country’s continued battle.

Against that background, Ukraine is increasingly keen on getting Chinese support for its proposed peace plan aimed at ending the war, although the Beijing has appeared reluctant to openly back it so far.