China economy

Xi Jinping to skip Fortune world business leaders’ forum in Guangzhou, sources say

Local officials who have spent months preparing for event – including a facelift of city streets – said to be ‘very disappointed’ president won’t take part

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 10:58pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping will not attend next month’s Fortune Global Forum – a gathering of world business leaders in Guangzhou – as expected, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

While it was never officially announced that Xi would appear at the three-day forum, which begins on December 6, expectations have been high in the Pearl River Delta city that he would give a speech at the event. When it was held in Chengdu, Sichuan in 2013, Xi sent a letter of congratulations.

Vice-Premier Wang Yang will instead give a keynote speech at the gathering, the sources said.

The organiser’s media office declined to comment on whether the president would attend.

“Guangzhou officials are very disappointed” that Xi would not take part in the international event, one source said.

Local authorities have been preparing for the forum for months in anticipation of a Xi visit.

On the event’s official website, a line from Xi’s letter to the Chengdu forum four years ago is highlighted: “The Fortune Global Forum is one of the most influential forums on economic development in the world.”

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“We found out a week ago that Xi won’t attend. Now we’ve been told not to make any public comments about the forum,” according to a political and economic commentator in Guangzhou who declined to be named.

“The local authorities will be disappointed ... they’ve gone to great effort over the past few months to upgrade infrastructure to welcome and impress the president,” he said.

“They were hoping a visit to Guangdong by Xi would be an endorsement for its importance to the country’s economic growth. But Wang’s attendance is still very positive for Guangdong.”

The municipal government has held road shows on the forum in 13 key places across the globe including Silicon Valley, New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and Munich.

More than 2,000 people from 120 countries and regions will take part in the forum. They include several foreign leaders, nearly 50 ministerial-level officials and more than 200 prominent chief executives, according to the organisers.

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In Guangzhou, the city streets have been given a facelift ahead of the event, with pavement bricks replaced and exterior walls of buildings repainted.

“We all heard that Xi was coming. These projects have gone on for several months and we’ve had to contend with traffic jams across the city every day,” one taxi driver said. “Don’t tell me he’s not coming now – the government’s spent so much money on it.”

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Meanwhile, checks on the city’s subway system have been strengthened to the level of airport security in preparation for the forum, with both passengers and their baggage X-rayed from October 1.

Those measures have cost an estimated three billion yuan (US$456.28 million), covering 855 new items of equipment and the hiring of 12,000 security guards for the period, according to the government’s website.

Train passengers have complained that the tightened security is adding up to 30 minutes to their travel time, especially during peak hours.