Gaza, Ukraine wars to overshadow meeting of govt. officials and VIPs at WEF in Davos

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Russia’s nearly two-year-old assault on Ukraine has taken center stage at previous editions of the World Economic Forum (WEF), with Kyiv dispatching officials and lawmakers to lobby allies for more weapons and funding.

A meeting of national security advisers on the “Ukrainian peace formula” will take place on Sunday in Davos on the eve of the forum’s kick-off, which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will attend in person for the first time.

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But the WEF will now also wrestle with concerns that Israel’s war with Hamas could grow into a wider Middle East conflict, with global trade already disrupted by attacks by Yemeni militants on commercial ships in the Red Sea, sparking US and British air strikes in response early Friday.

A cascade of other global threats ranging from climate change to a cost-of-living crisis and a sputtering economy will share the agenda at the meetings starting Monday under the theme “Rebuilding Trust.”

The gathering “is taking place against the most complicated geopolitical and geoeconomic backdrop in decades,” said WEF president Borge Brende.

‘Spinning plates’

A broad cast of political heavyweights will descend on Davos, ranging from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to French President Emmanuel Macron and a clutch of Middle East leaders, including Israeli President Isaac Herzog and leaders from Qatar, Jordan and Lebanon.

“We know that the war in Gaza is still going on and there are worries for a further escalation,” Brende said, adding that the WEF meeting would “look how to avoid a further deterioration.”

Ukraine will continue to make its case for sustained Western aid, with Zelenskyy, who had previously appeared via video link, set to meet CEOs.

Trade and diplomatic tensions between the United States and China add to the complex geopolitical picture in Davos.

On top of this come major elections in several countries this year, including Britain, India and the United States, where Donald Trump is widely favored to secure a rematch against President Joe Biden.

A WEF survey released Wednesday found that misinformation and disinformation driven by artificial intelligence ahead of elections are the biggest global risks this year and next.

“Geopolitics these days is like watching a circus performer spinning plates on top of sticks,” Karen Harris, an economist at the consulting firm Bain & Co., told AFP.

She noted that the Davos forum would be held just after elections on Saturday in Taiwan, the democratic island that China considers a renegade province -- a major source of tension between Beijing and Washington.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, who will make a special address on Tuesday, will be the most senior Chinese official to attend Davos since President Xi Jinping in 2017.

Business as usual

More than 60 heads of state and government are expected at the five-day forum, which will also welcome some 800 chief executives among a total of 2,800 participants.

The WEF will feature a newcomer, Argentina’s eccentric and libertarian new president, Javier Milei, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” whose anti-establishment views have drawn comparisons to Trump’s.

Around 5,000 Swiss soldiers will provide security for the event, with fighter jets patrolling the skies of the Alpine nation.

Business will of course also figure highly in the talks.

The rapid rise of artificial intelligence will be among the hot topics of discussion, with Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella and Sam Altman, chief of ChatGPT developer OpenAI, among the attendees.

While politicians and executives will chat publicly about how to fix the world, Davos remains a hotspot for backroom schmoozing, with the usual exclusive cocktail parties taking place along the ski resort’s promenade.

Protests are held every year against the gathering, with the Swiss Socialist Youth group calling for a demonstration on Sunday to denounce “a closed meeting between the rich and powerful.”

With AFP

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