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13 February 2018

Out of the Box - State of the world from the Alps  
Prof Tony Chan     Published in The Standard

last week, i discussed the speeches of several political leaders - including that of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor - at the World Economic Forum. This week, I'll describe some other observations.

Davos was hit by a heavy snowfall just before the forum.

It makes for beautiful scenery but the ride from Zurich Airport, which usually takes only two hours, took seven instead.

The forum kicked off with Crystal Awards being given to actress Cate Blanchett, singer Elton John and Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.

Everyone talked about AI in Davos.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said: "AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire." Google has recently announced it will open AI research centers in China and in France.

Justin Trudeau of Canada made "Time's Up" and "Me Too" movement the core of his speech.

I particularly appreciate this quote of his: "Men must have the courage to be feminists, and the integrity to be allies." He switched smoothly between English and French - after all Canada is officially bilingual. He also made news with his colorful socks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained defiant over his policies despite the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "The Palestinians should have all the power to govern themselves but none of the power to threaten us," he said.

One of his most intriguing suggestions was to use Israeli technology to help the Arabic world as a way to get peace. Tech for peace - what an intriguing thought! But the response from the audience was rather muted.

The Global University Leaders Forum had two special guest speakers.

One was US Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, who said lifelong learning is the key to success: "Instead of sending our graduates to investment banks, it would probably be more helpful to send them to the police force so that they can see the real world."

The other speaker, Jim Kim, head of the World Bank (a naturalized Korean-American and former president of Dartmouth), was impressively energetic, articulate and provocative. He said the World Bank is starting a "Human Capital Project" - which will include a ranking of countries based on their investment in health and education. Investing in people is the best way to help the world's population to adjust to rapid changes in the technological world.

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma was bullish on trade. "I think globalization cannot be stopped - no one can stop globalization, no one can stop trade. If trade stops, the world stops," he said.

But I like the following best: "To gain success a person will need high EQ; if you don't want to lose quickly you will need a high IQ, and if you want to be respected you need high LQ - the IQ of love."

Hong Kong had a strong presence in Davos. For the first time, a Hong Kong company, AMTD (an investment firm), had a store front on the main promenade, steps away from storefronts of Facebook and Google, and countries like India and Russia.

Our chief executive spoke there in a reception.

Receptions by countries and multinational companies, which go late into the night, are legendary.

They can be great and odd at the same time.

Japan Night has the reputation of having the best food (chefs and food were flown in from Japan), but Russia House happened to be across the street from Ukraine House, which was quite an irony as they were at war recently.

At the final "soiree," I got into a conversation with the president of Australian National University, who told me that the university has a Jackie Chan cancer research center.

It turns out that the actor's mother had a serious illness that was treated at ANU, and he made a generous donation to ANU to support its research.

The attendance of Chinese in Davos left a lasting impression.

Jack Ma said at the Chinese community dinner that he first attended Davos more than a decade ago, and over the years he has witnessed a dramatic rise in the level of participation from China.

That reflects the increasing influence of China in world affairs - a trend that will surely continue.


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