Dalian forum strives to put forth more than talk-shop image
Last Tuesday about 1,700 chief executives from the world's biggest firms, government officials, academics and hundreds of media representatives poured into Dalian, a coastal tourist city in the mainland's north, for the summer meeting of the World Economic Forum - the first held in the country in the 36-year history of the non-profit organisation.
A red carpet was literally rolled out all the way from the airport to the city, with gigantic red 'Davos-Dalian' banners and neon-lit billboards greeting participants of the three-day forum. Premier Wen Jiabao was flanked by eight ministers and deputies from the state's core agencies.
'It is a very big event here; apparently thousands of people are coming for the meeting,' said a taxi driver. 'But they could be more productive than just sitting in the Expo centre just to talk, talk, talk.'
Critics said the New Champions meeting, sometimes called summer Davos, was little more than a euphemism for the organisation's 'talk-shop' image.
However, some participants regard the Dalian meeting as a fact-finding and connection-building opportunity as the mainland economy is expected to post 11 per cent growth this year, and is on track to take Germany's position as the world's third-largest economy.
'[The talk-shop image] is a misunderstanding on the forum, which is prestigious and influential,' said Ron Kok, president of Netherlands-based renewable energy technology provider OTB Group, a Euro50 million business. 'The forum should have done better marketing work,' said Mr Kok, who has attended World Economic Forum for the past six years.
Vincent Lo Hon-shui, chairman of property developer Shui On Holdings, which redeveloped restaurant and shopping complex Xintiandi in Shanghai, sought views on the implications of the United States' shaky financial market on the mainland's economy.
'I won't expect any concrete conclusion or details of certain business issues coming out of this meeting,' Mr Lo said. 'It is a chance to feel the pulse on global economy and make business contacts.'
He was concerned about the repercussions, if any, of the US' subprime lending fiasco on the mainland's booming property sector. In Shui On's case, the issue could not have come at a more sensitive time as the group will imminently break ground on a 15 billion yuan software industrial park in Dalian.
As the subprime lending crisis was unfolding, the prospect of a recession in the US and the likelihood of the looming recession pulling the brake on the mainland's robust growth was hotly debated. Participants widely agreed a recession was hovering and could pour cold water on the mainland's sizzling economy.
However, some pointed out that the country's US$1.4 trillion foreign exchange reserve as of July and strong growth in foreign trade would help it weather external financial turmoil.