The PR fight for Asian dominance

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JANUARY 25

Facts tell the story

It may have been an accident. But the chart prominently displayed in the morning’s first session on China’s rise made it pretty clear what Chinese officials think of the idea that India’s growth story merits comparison with their economic miracle. Titled “integration with the world” the chart showed Chinese exports soaring from the 1980s onwards until they reached broad parity with the US. A third line showed India’s exports plodding along at barely one-seventh of China’s annual total. India’s promise may be great and its public relations campaign is certainly impressive. But facts speak louder than words.

China’s vocal critics...

While you can hardly throw a snowball in Davos without hitting an Indian CEO, the Chinese have kept a lower profile.

Not so, though, their critics. Checking into their hotels yesterday, some delegates found that of the usual array of leaflets and special-edition newsletters that had been laid out in hotel lobbies for their perusal, the first was a long screed - in German - from Falun Gong, the sect [not sure of style] who specialise in riling Beijing.

Great organisational skills. Perhaps their CEO should be speaking at the Forum.

...and its supporters

Of course, not everyone in Davos was critical that China has yet to mature into a freedom-loving poster child for Amnesty International and Milton Friedman. Jim O’Neill, the affable straight-talking chief economist of Goldman Sachs, enthused about the way the Chinese government went about its task.

For example, he said, Beijing has its own ways of preventing runaway money supply: rather than all that complicated tinkering with interest rates, it just gets on the phone to the Chinese banks and orders them to stop lending. Taking the point rather further, he said that the Chinese economy had benefited from not being a democracy. For any soft-hearted types present, he suggested there would be plenty of time to extend freedom once another few hundred million Chinese had been lifted out of poverty.

One out of two

Thierry Breton, the flamboyant French finance minister, came over all bashful after telling journalists how marvellous French technology and its economy was.

On a personal level, he recalled that a few years ago, both he and Angela Merkel had been identified by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the annual Davos bash, as future global leaders. Ruefully, he mused: “For one of us, the prediction was true”.

Kentucky fried

Elaine Chao, the US labour secretary, enjoyed talking about the two million jobs created by the US labour market last year. But few of her audience were persuaded by some of the more amazing facts she had stored up her sleeve.

Reciting a huge list of benefits that were available for workers displaced when their jobs were moved abroad, hecklers reminded her that not one person had managed to jump though the hoops of qualification yet.

And when she told the heartening story of a Kentucky town that had lost a Fruit of the Loom factory, but had recently attracted Amazon.Com, she said. “Now the employees are learning about options and holding stock”. This was too much, even for Jagdish Bhagwati, the free market loving professor of economics at Columbia University. He could be seen pointing vigorously at the floor, indicating that all they would learn is that stock prices go down as well as up.

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