Dragon Trumps Davos For Chinese Officials

The Wall Street Journal reports that China has scaled back its presence at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, which begins this week, given the conflict with the Lunar New Year holiday:

Based on a list from the World Economic Forum dated Tuesday, attendees from mainland China-based agencies, companies and organization this year will total 63, down from the record 66 who attended in 2011. Its top political leaders, regulators and business executives also are expected to skip the forum.

The top political official in attendance will be Zhang Xiaoqiang, vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s economic planning body. Another influential figure at Davos will be Li Daokui, director of a Beijing think tank and an adviser to the People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attended in 2009, while Li Keqiang—who is expected to succeed Mr. Wen in a once-a-decade political changeover that begins late this year—attended in 2010.

Last year, major political figures largely skipped the Davos forum, but leaders from some of China’s top state-owned enterprises attended. By contrast, none of the senior executives from China’s state-controlled bank and energy giants are scheduled attend this week’s forum, according to the forum’s list. Top business attendees are expected to include Sun Yafang, chairwoman of telecommunications equipment provider Huawei Technologies Co., and Chen Feng, chairman of HNA Group Co., one of China’s largest private-sector and most acquisitive conglomerates.

China approached event organizers in early 2011 to propose moving this year’s forum to an earlier date, according to The Financial Times, in order to avoid breaking with a 30-year tradition of sending high-level representatives:

Since 1979, when China formally joined the World Economic Forum at the dawn of Deng’s open-door reform, it has been represented by vice-premier ranking officials, and even premiers.

Observers believe that absence of senior officials this year may reflect Beijing’s focus on internal issues, especially in the run-up to the once-a-decade leadership shuffle this year.

“This year has particular political significance. Chinese leaders will do everything for the purpose of domestic politics, just like politicians in the US,” said Zheng Yongnian, a scholar of Chinese politics at East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.

Meanwhile, The New York Times speculates about a possible ulterior motive for some of the Chinese business figures who chose to flock to Davos:

Some of the Chinese tycoons attending Davos this week — despite the conflict with the Lunar New Year celebrations back home — might well be conducting their due diligence before emigrating. A recent survey of 980 Chinese millionaires found that 46 percent of them were considering leaving China and another 14 percent had already emigrated or were completing the paperwork for relocating.

The survey by the Bank of China and the Hurun Report said 40 percent of the would-be émigrés — they’re known as “migratory birds” in China — would aim for the United States, followed by Canada (37 percent), Singapore (14 percent), Europe (11 percent), Hong Kong (5 percent) and Britain (2 percent).

The leading reasons for taking flight: better educational opportunities for their children, advanced medical treatment, worsening pollution back home (especially urban air quality) and food safety concerns.

But many potential émigrés, not surprisingly, are working on a Plan B in case China’s economic growth begins to slow, widespread social unrest takes hold or the political winds begin to blow against them.

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