China has taken over Davos in an attempt to convince investors it’s open for business after years of COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Choosing investment in the Chinese market is not a risk, but opportunity,” Chinese Premier Li Qiang said during his keynote address at the annual conference in the Swiss Alps, adding that the country’s economy has grown by more than Beijing’s prediction of 5% in 2023.
Some commentators are calling Li’s sizable Chinese delegation at the World Economic Forum meeting a “pseudo-state visit,” aiming to strike deals with both Swiss and global officials at the ski resort. While China’s economy has shown some signs of recovery, investors remain skeptical of its increasingly authoritarian policies and previous zero-COVID regulations, which were lifted following widespread protests in late 2022.
U.S. worries Chinese delegation could sway Switzerland
More than 10 Chinese state ministries are at Davos, according to Politico. U.S. officials are now scrambling to set up a meeting between Swiss leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken so that “famously neutral Switzerland doesn’t feel jaded by Washington,” Politico reported. Switzerland has in recent years been aligning itself closer to the West. It joined the European Union in sanctioning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and a Swiss delegation last year met with outgoing Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. But Switzerland remains deeply economically tied to Beijing, much to the dismay of Western politicians and academics. The two countries recently signed a new trade deal and Beijing also granted Swiss citizens rare visa-free entry to China. “Switzerland has a tendency to follow the industry interests and not the human rights interests,” one NGO director told Nikkei Asia last year.
Beijing goes all in on “rebuilding trust” theme
China’s delegation at Davos is pushing for more trade with Beijing after months of Western companies “de-risking” from China. Engaging in protectionism is “like locking oneself in a dark room” where the West thinks it has “escaped the wind and rain” but has also “blocked out the sunshine and air,” blogger Guan Yao wrote about China’s position at Davos for the Chinese state media outlet Direct News. Premier Li, meanwhile, is tasked with convincing investors that China is “open for business,” despite its sluggish economic recovery dragged-down by Zero-COVID lockdowns. Beijing faces an uphill battle: 40% of respondents in the 2023 American Chamber of Commerce survey said they planned on redirecting investment from China to other markets, according to The Diplomat.
Chinese youth fear that country’s “golden years are over”
Despite Li’s claims of an open and strong Chinese economy, many Chinese millennials and Gen-Z remain gloomy about the country’s economic prospects, NPR reported. “China’s golden years…are over,” one masters student told the broadcaster. Beijing recognizes the youth pessimism, though it has sought to censor online discussion about the economy — particularly frustrations over the country’s property crisis — in an effort to keep social order, Semafor previously reported. Still, economic leaders are warning that China must help its youth if it wants to remain an economic world leader. In its deflated economy, young people are the primary consumers, but previous state policies have been “biased” toward driving growth through stock stabilization and tax cuts, rather than focusing on the “top priority” of increasing jobs for young people, Yao Jingyuan, the former chief economist of the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, told The Paper.