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September 21, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright September 21, 2009 Daniel A. Bell. Used by permission.


Last weekend, the World Economic Forum held its third “Annual Meeting of the New Champions” in Dalian. Known as “Summer Davos,” the event brought together over a thousand business and political leaders from around the world (aTelegraph story about Premier Wen Jiabao’s keynote speech can be found here; has complete coverage of the weekend here). China Beat contributor Daniel A. Bell attended the meeting, and shares his experiences as a lone philosopher in a sea of CEOs and political leaders.

My Davos experience did not get off to a good start. After a week-long research trip to Singapore, I barely had time to greet my wife and kid before I was jetting off to Dalian, host city of the third annual “Summer Davos” meeting. Yes, it was business class, but they ran out of wine and I had to nurse an uninspiring Yanjing beer. The plane landed at midnight, we were shepherded to a bus and told to wait for other passengers. A couple of Americans complained – in Chinese – that they would rather get off and take a taxi. I joined the chorus of complaints, and finally the bus took us to our hotels. After a few hours sleep, I was waken at 5:30 am by the sound of pounding jackhammers outside. I tried to make sense of what was going on, but there was a power failure in our hotel. After an hour of staring at the ceiling and blocking my ears with five-star fluffy pillows, the lights finally came on.

Over breakfast, I met a friendly government official from Tianjin, who was confident that the next Summer Davos would be held in his city, where the forum had been held the previous year. Later, I met an official from Dalian, who was equally confident that his city, which had hosted the first meeting, in 2007, would be selected as the permanent site of the Summer Davos. Clearly there was intense competition between the political leaders of the two cities, though they are supposed to be members of the same party.

Off to the conference site. Our electric-battery powered bus drove in a special lane, with policemen and women on every block. It was the first time I had experienced such VIP treatment. The Davos crowd is supposed to be composed of the world’s most politically influential people; I noticed from the program that I was the only participant listed as a “philosopher” and naturally I wondered how I managed to slip under the radar.