BEIJING/HONG KONG – President Xi Jinping will become the first Chinese head of state to address the World Economic Forum, leading an entourage of business executives to Switzerland next week as the country seeks a larger role in shaping the global economic order.
Xi will speak at the opening session on Jan. 17 of the annual gathering of billionaires and political elites in the Alpine resort town of Davos, the WEF’s chief China representative, David Aikman, said at a briefing Tuesday in Beijing. Xi was expected to hold conversations with global leaders among more than 3,000 attendees, who will include U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, outgoing U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and South African President Jacob Zuma, Aikman said.
Executives accompanying Xi to the meeting include Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. founder Jack Ma, Dalian Wanda Group Co. Chairman Wang Jianlin and Baidu Inc. President Zhang Yaqin. Huawei Technologies Co. Chairwoman Sun Yafang, China Telecom Corp. Chairman Yang Jie, and China Poly Group Corp. Chairman Xu Niansha will also attend.
Ma and Wang are China’s two richest people, with net worths of $34.5 billion and $30.5 billion, respectively, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. They rank 15th and 21st globally.
“This year, because of the size and scale of the China delegation, we have Chinese voices in most of the global discussions,” Aikman said. Participants want “to know China’s view on global and regional issues,” he said.
The trip comes as China casts itself as an advocate of globalization in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president on an “America First” platform that was critical of free trade deals. Trump is scheduled to be inaugurated in Washington on the final day of the meeting.
The event will provide a forum for Xi to tout China’s role in the global economy, as he prepares for a key Communist Party gathering this year expected to give him a second term as leader. He will likely highlight signature projects such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the “One Belt, One Road” trade-and-infrastructure initiative, which help leverage Chinese economic might into geopolitical clout.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang used the Davos meeting in 2015 to reassure the international business community about the country’s “new normal” of slower economic growth. His predecessor, Wen Jiabao, attended in 2009, weeks after unveiling a $586 billion stimulus package amid the financial crisis. Last year, the Chinese delegation was led by Vice President Li Yuanchao.