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Davos highlights: 'It is time to change course'

German Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, listens to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Davos Agenda, in Cologny near Geneva, 26 January, 2021. (Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

As the planet continues to reel from the pandemic, world leaders are gathering virtually this week for Davos Agenda to share their vision of a post-Covid future. We've rounded up the key takeaways of the online forum.

Heads of states, chiefs of international organisations and business magnates have taken the floor to make bold statements about how they plan to contribute to what the World Economic Forum has dubbed “the great reset”.

Xi Jinping cautions against “cold war mentality”. China’s president addressed a strong message of unity at the virtual forum, making the case for multilateralism and an '“open world economy”. The Chinese leader, who did not name any countries, called on states to reject cliques, intimidation, sanctions and “meddling in other countries’ internal affairs”.

“To build small circles or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others, to wilfully impose decoupling, supply disruption or sanctions, and to create isolation or estrangement will only push the world into division and even confrontation,” he said.

This comes as US president Joe Biden announced this week his intentions to put a stop to China’s “economic abuses”, suggesting that the trade war between the two powers is far from over. China’s relations with other countries, including the UK, have also been strained due to its mass detention campaign against Uighurs, a Muslim minority group, in the province of Xinjiang, as well as its crackdown of opposition members in Hong Kong.

Vaccines for all, says UN chief. Secretary general Antonio Guterres pointed out the uneven distribution of vaccines as “richer nations have received doses while the world’s poorest countries have none,” calling for more funding for Covax, a World Health Organisation (WHO) led-programme aiming to ensure that poorer countries have access to the vaccine.

“Inclusive and sustainable recovery around the globe will depend on the availability and effectiveness of vaccines for all, immediate fiscal and monetary support in both developed and developing countries, and transformative longer-term stimulus measures,” he said.

Guterres, who also highlighted the need to respond to the challenges posed by climate change, biodiversity loss and growing inequalities, said: “It is time to change course and take the sustainable path. And, this year, we have a unique opportunity to do so. We can use our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic to move from fragilities to resilience.”

Merkel sides with China. The German Chancellor rejected President Biden’s call for a EU-US alliance against China, in a show of support for Xi Jinping’s plea against divisions made a day earlier.

“I would very much wish to avoid the building of blocs,” she said. “I don’t think it would do justice to many societies if we were to say this is the United States and over there is China and we are grouping around either the one or the other.”

EU calls for regulations on internet companies. Recalling the storming of Capitol Hill on 6 January, the chief of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen spoke of the “darker sides of the digital world”, including the wide-spreading of hate speech and fake news.

She invited the White House to join the EU, who launched the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act in December, in its efforts to create a law framework ensuring that “internet companies take responsibility for the manner in which they disseminate, promote and remove content.”

Macron calls for biodiversity agreement. French president Emmanuel Macron noted that the world was not living up to the Paris climate agenda and urged international partners to show further ambition, with the private sector having a key role to play in this.

He called for a biodiversity agreement, mirroring the Paris climate deal, to be negotiated during the Biodiversity Summit due to be held in Kunming, China in the second quarter of this year.

“What we are doing for climate, we must do for biodiversity, as these two go together,” he said. Ursula von der Leyen echoed his comments, also calling for an equivalent biodiversity accord.

Putin warns of risk of “all against all fight”. The pandemic has exacerbated global challenges, including political tensions, conflicts, social inequalities and income gaps, the Russian president said.

He compared the current economic and social situation to that of the late 20s and early 30s that led to World War II, warning of a possible “natural collapse of global development” that could “result in an all against all fight”.

The Russian leader stressed the need to help people face the economic fallout brought about by the pandemic, or else public discontent would continue to grow and sow more division.

He called for the international community to set aside rivalries and differences of interest and work together in addressing the health crisis, but also to favour multilateral approaches to resolve armed conflicts, including in Syria and in Nagorno-Karabakh.

This comes on the same day as Russia’s parliament has just approved a five-year extension of its nuclear arms pact with the US, set to expire next week.