Peace in Cyprus, transformation in China’s economy, and the dreams and nightmares of 21st-century society all featured on the stage at Davos on Thursday.
What has been described as one of the world’s most intractable ethnic disputes could be resolved within a year, as Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, and Mustafa Akinci, the Turkish-Cypriot leader, shook hands and expressed their hope for peace in 2016.
This was a bright spot in a troubled outlook for Europe, as leaders confronting political polarization, economic fragmentation and security threats debated their future. For the prime ministers of both Greece and France, the solution was “more Europe”, with France’s Manuel Valls expressing his hope that the union would survive intact:
At a global level, the outlook was more positive – though you wouldn’t think so from the headlines. The year 2015 was a turbulent one, and 2016 got off to an equally bumpy start. The source of this unrest? China. “Chinese markets have begun the year with a lot of volatility,” explained Bloomberg’s Francine Lacqua in a session on the outlook for the Chinese economy.
But the main call from many of the economists here in Davos was for calm: the Asian powerhouse is not about to have a hard landing. For IMF chief Christine Lagarde, developments in China are merely a sign its economy is transitioning to a “new normal” – moving away from fast, export-driven and resource-intensive growth, towards something more sustainable. While this might lead to some volatility in the short term, it’s nothing markets can’t handle.
It was a sentiment echoed by the Chinese delegation here in Davos. In a special address, the country’s vice-president, Li Yuanchao, stressed that China was now focusing less on quantity and more on quality.
In another session on the global economy, this time at the Open Forum – which members of the public are free to join – the topic of China’s growth came up again. For Zhang Xin, a Chinese entrepreneur, things aren’t as bad as they seem. To many countries, growth of 6.9% for 2015 would be considered “very nice”, she said, but the world’s second largest economy expects more.
In the same session, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz questioned whether we should really be measuring GDP growth anyway. “What we measure informs what we do. And if we’re measuring the wrong thing, we’re going to do the wrong thing.” Time for a new way of assessing global progress?
The shifting balance of economic power will not be the only factor defining the 21st century: leaders discussed how to turn the hopes of last year’s Paris climate summit into reality, while new technology will open the door to both utopias and dystopias. In the session What if robots go to war? Angela Kane, Senior Fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, warned that we were losing control of the rules of conflict.
Happily, robo-participant HUBO remained in a peaceful frame of mind:
The day closed on what could only be described as a more hopeful note.
In a session on the 21st century dream, Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk said that young people were increasingly driven by values, while musician and Crystal Award winner will.i.am shared his story of climbing from poverty to social impact.
The Annual Meeting is taking place in Davos from 20 to 23 January, under the theme “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.