Participants leave forum with a sunny feeling

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 2009, 12:00am
 

Only 'polar bears or Eskimos' can survive at Davos, but in Boao 'the ladies can come in their bathing suits if they care to', former Philippine president Fidel Ramos said at the close of the summit in Hainan last night.

The Boao Forum for Asia, the annual non-governmental brainstorming session on the regional economy, ended its third and final day yesterday with organisers and participants hailing it as a success, particularly given the backdrop of global financial turmoil. This year's forum was attended by more than 1,600 business heads, political leaders and academics from the region and beyond.

No formal political commitments are made at the summit, but informal bilateral talks taking place on the sidelines have laid the groundwork for deals to be made in coming months. Notably, it appears likely negotiations between Beijing and Taipei will make a breakthrough at the end of the month on allowing cross-strait financial services, partly as a result of meetings held in Boao.

Mr Ramos, chairman of the forum's board of directors, insisted the Boao forum had never been intended to 'rival or much less supplement' the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, but said it did get better weather.

'I have been to Davos and still don't understand why we are meeting on top of the Alps in mid-winter,' he said. 'I hope I will be forgiven for being a little critical, but you have to be a polar bear or an Eskimo.'

In Boao, by contrast, the dress code was 'informal, casual and there is a 25-mile golden beach out there'.

That beach and the conference venue were bathed in sunshine yesterday, a stark contrast to the black storm clouds that unleashed a tropical deluge on Saturday just moments before Premier Wen Jiabao gave his opening address.

Also in contrast to the buzzing crowds who packed the hall for that speech and a dinner appearance by former US president George W Bush in the evening, the forum ended like it began on Friday - with a whimper. Attendance was down in the morning and the throngs of delegates thinned as the day progressed.

'People in the east pay great attention to the leaders and will leave once the leaders have gone,' forum secretary general Long Yongtu said at last night's closing press conference.

'We kept George W. Bush in our hotel until 9pm last [Saturday] night so more people might stay the night. George W. Bush made some contribution to the full attendance of today's meetings.'

Mr Long insisted panel meetings had remained packed 'right up to the end'.

In reality, things started winding down hours earlier. Volunteers had begun taking down stalls in the early afternoon and security guards gave up using metal detectors and X-raying bags at the entrances shortly after lunch.

Despite the grandeur of the main conference hall, Boao town across the bay still has the air of a rundown backwater. Lights went out early at night, prompting a number of the 600 visiting reporters to ask: 'What does this town do for the other 362 days of the year?'

However, Rechard Li Yu, a locally based photojournalist, said the town took on a party atmosphere once the conference was over.

'It is always very busy here with tourists throughout the year,' he said. 'The bars normally make a lot of noise at night.'

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