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World Economic Forum in Davos: Where was India?

For international politics and economics, the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos is not the measure of all. But the media reporting about the WEF still holds lessons for all. Davos is an annual platform for leaders who remind the world who is still relevant or relevant again. Some of the countries keep coming back to the limelight every year, because they remain relevant. The USA, of course, the Euro Zone, of course, and China. The world attention in Davos has been strongly focussed on Europe’s problems, this time, or rather on the competing approaches how to administer them. Should central bank actions give a boost to the recovery of crippling economies and to eventual healthy growth? Or should governments first operate structural reforms, with the same ultimate goal? The one approach can trigger war between currencies with unpredictable consequences for later inflation and growth, whereas the other approach may harm the social fabric of countries and postpone healthy growth far into the future, possibly sacrificing an entire generation. China is not new to international debates on global issues. What is new compared to a few years ago, is that China has arrived at the top and is sharing with the few other genuinely global economies views and concepts of how to run the world cooperatively. China’s presence in international bodies is changing their power structures. China had a strong showing in Davos, this year, and hence in the world media. China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang opened the Forum, Ren Zhengfei, chairman of the global telecommunications company Huawei made his first public appearance. Chinese speakers and their messages were seen as relevant in debates on how to solve global problems in a cooperative manner. And in the margins, as so often, the top officials present at the Forum launch or settle issues of specific interest to them. China signed an agreement transforming Switzerland into an international hub for the trade in the Chinese currency, the Renminbi. The USA, still at the top of the top economies of the world, were omnipresent in Davos and their Secretary of State, John Kerry, too, sought to meet again his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in the margin of the Forum after having seen him in Geneva not long before. The Forum has become and remains what the term meant in ancient Rome: the marketplace, the place to be when aspiring to be relevant for the world to which you belong. And what about India, a nation which will surpass China population wise in some ten years, as estimates go? India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, newly elected into office with his party, the BJP, some eight months ago, has started an impressive world tour for bilateral contacts on the highest level with the most relevant powers of the world without committing his country to exclusive partnerships, always abstaining from indicating strategic preferences, playing his cards smartly, as we have noticed before in these columns. But should such a nation not be present and dominantly interacting with other powers on that most relevant marketplace? India’s most visible presence in Davos was its marketing campaign “Make in India”, which, they say, reminds us of Modi’s once successful slogan when running the Union State Gujarat as Chief Minister. Glossy documentation does not replace genuine weight; the economic gap between India and comparable competitors is not narrowing. They must be doing something wrong. At least, India has indicated, during a Swiss sponsored debate in Davos, some new flexibility in the framework of the WTO’s Doha Round. Whether, however, deeds will follow words remains to be seen. Sensible politics are hoping for deeds.

29th January 2015 / Philippe Welti

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