World leaders move their meetings to Asia – time for us to do the same?

In a change of places to meet from Davos to Singapore World Economic Forum (WEF) have made a decision that highlights the role of Europe in the world. The physical WEF meeting will 2021 be held 13-16 May. This has also consequences for popular movements on all continents cooperating with the help of World Social Forum (WSF) to confront the neoliberal Davos agenda. 

The reason for shifting WEF from the ski resort in the Alps to the financial hub in Asia is practical. Europe have not been able to control the Covid-19 pandemic while many countries in Eastern Asia have done this far better. The world leaders from business and politics that regularly meet in Davos at the yearly WEF gatherings do not find it safe anymore to go to Europe for a meeting like this.

We should do the same.

The change of place and time cannot be more symbolical. It is not only the health system and the way of living in Europe that have created severe societal problems. It is also at the economic and political level Europe is loosing its privileged position together with the US.  

Singapore is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN. This regional organisation consists of very different countries in terms of culture, economy and political system. Yet it has been successful and can today be seen as an example for the world. The region has integrated more and more countries since its beginning in 1967 and adopted newcomers well. It has gradually improved its relations with neighbouring countries like China, South Korea and Japan and lately also India, Australia and New Zealand with multilateral economic agreements beneficial for all. ASEAN also promotes regional peace and has declared South East Asia a nuclear free zone. The mode of operation is rather consensual built on multilateral agreements.

Europe is dominated by the EU that has chosen a different model. The main direction has been to develop a more supranational federalism in more and more areas causing growing tensions. When ASEAN gradually integrates new countries and maintains a good relationship with neighbours in all directions the EU is doing the opposite. It is becoming more and more hostile towards Russia ands chose to become more militarized. The House of European History established by the EU in Brussels rewrites history erasing the oppressive relationship that exists today since WWII between EU and the South while making a shiny picture of liberalism and seeing Nazism and communism as the threat against humanity. Neighbouring countries in Eastern Europe, West Asia and North Africa have a troublesome relationship with EU and its member states. Inside the EU tensions are also growing with the treatment of Greece by central EU institutions have caused severe concern and the UK now leaves the union. 

The move from the Swiss ski resort to Singapore will turn the eyes in the world population to the advantages of the ASEAN peaceful model and the present failures of the EU model. More importantly it will also pose a challenge for those protesting against the neoliberal world order promoted by the WEF. The shift of this meeting from Europe to Asia will not mean that the plans promoted at these meetings will be less dangerous.

WSF was established 20 years ago to confront the Davos agenda. WEF organizes a digital event on its normal dates the last week in January replacing the annual meeting in Davos while the physical meeting temporarily is moved to Singapore in May to come back to the Alps in January next year. In response at its 20th anniversary WSF will organize a decentralised and online global convergence between 23 – 31 January. 

South East Asia has been more important for social movements the last 30 years than we likely know

The temporary WEF move to Singapore makes it necessary to rethink and renew WSF. WSF has never been able to establish any substantial participations from South Eastern or East Asia. This will now be an important task to solve. WSF was originally planned to take place in Mexico 2021 but plans had to be changed because of pandemic regulations. As the Davos meeting WSF had to change preparing a decentralized and global WSF connected with the help of internet. Latin language countries has dominated the preparations so far and mobilization been slow outside Latin America. Now with the need to mobilize more strongly in the South East Asian region both in January and May it will also effect seemingly small details.

One such is when it is actually best to have a meeting with possible world wide attendance. Internet have provided us with possibilities to communicate across the globe at the same time. But not all times of the day are the best for having a global participation. People need to sleep. So far Mexican central time has been the norm for the choice of such a privileged time slot. Thus 8 – 10 am Mexican has been seen as the best two hours for such a world meeting. This would mean 6 – 8 am in California, Singapore 9.30 – 11.30 pm, Hiroshima 11 pm – 1 am the next day and 12 pm – 2 am in Sydney. The chosen time slot by the peace movement is telling. International Peace Bureau calls for a global virtual Zoom party to celebrate the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entry into force between 13 – 15 pm Central European time two hours before the time so far seen as most useful for such events in the planning towards WSF 2021. The priority for the peace movement is rather Japan and large populations in East Asia rather than California. The peace celebration will take place 9 – 11 pm in Japan while the Mexicans has to be early risers at 6 am. 

More important are the political challenges for the WSF process when Davos moves to South East Asia. This region have been more important for global popular movements than most people know. Friends of the Earth and the Consumer Alliance In Malaysia hosted here the first meeting of the Third World Network meeting in 1983. This became decisive in changing the international environmental movement from dominated by Anglo American views lacking a social justice agenda to a more system critical movement with a strong voice from the continents in the South. Since then Third World Network has been a strong coordinator of the views of popular movements in environmental, trade and other international fora.  

In this region there are also other strong actors that have influenced international popular movements and criticism of the present world order. The economist Walden Bello and the organization Focus on the Global South based in Bangkok are such voices of special importance when WEF takes place in Singapore. Bello and Focus on the global South have been highly critical towards what they perceive as a politically impotent WSF the last decade. To convince them and likeminded people and organizations in the region that this is not the case anymore becomes essential to be able to confront WEF in May 2021.

The move by WEF maybe be the biggest mistake done by this influential institution. It can be of help for creating a greater convergence between movements in all parts of the world when WSF finally has to make Asia and Oceania beyond India seriously in tis plans for 2021 and the future. 

Tord Björk
Coordinator of the EU committee in Friends of the Earth Sweden 
Member of the International Council for Vasudhaiva Kutembakam in the World Social Forum

WEF information about the temporary move.


Let´s Celebrate the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Entry into Force Together!


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