Singaporeans are afraid to speak their minds

It has been a tradition for 50 years now: on a few days in January, world politics is not made in Washington, Beijing, Moscow or Berlin, but in the Swiss mountains. Then high-ranking managers, politicians and scientists from all over the world meet in Davos, discuss how things are going and make the headlines - the snow-capped peaks always in the background. The unassuming and arrogant goal of the World Economic Forum and its founder Klaus Schwab: "Improve the state of the world."

But because of the corona pandemic, everything is different now: In January 2021 there should only be a small virtual meeting. The big annual conference will then take place live in May 2021, in the spacious Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, announced the organizers of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The forum lives from free exchange, from the fact that everyone can express their opinion freely and that participants from all over the world come together. And that should now take place in the Asian city-state, which is best known for its authoritarian regime?

In fact, wealthy Singapore has so far been little affected by the Covid pandemic. As in China, the authorities rigorously enforce all protective and hygiene measures with great severity; the freedom and privacy of the individual counts little. In Switzerland, on the other hand, which has so far pursued a relatively liberal policy, the number of infections is very high. Actually, the meeting had only been moved from Davos to Lucerne a few months ago, it was also intended to send a signal to Switzerland as a business location. But in the past few weeks, many possible international participants have apparently signaled that they would not travel to Switzerland or Europe in view of the situation - because of the tense Covid situation. For Switzerland this is a bitter loss of image - who should still go on vacation in Switzerland when the WEF is leaving the country?

"The decision was made with a view to the safety of all participants and the hosts," said WEF founder Schwab. And he campaigned: "A summit of global leaders is vital to discuss how we can recover together." In any case, it will only be a significantly reduced annual meeting. In Davos there were up to 3000 participants in the past, but now only 800 to 1000 are expected, up to a maximum of 1500. The organizers hope that the newly elected US President Joe Biden will come, as Donald Trump had this January WEF used as a big stage. Singapore is easy to reach for participants from Asia, but the way is further from Europe and North America. Some of the diverse regional forums of the WEF have already taken place in Singapore in the past.

Since it was founded in 1971, the WEF, which is organized as a non-profit foundation with its headquarters in Geneva, has already developed into a profit machine. The forum is financed primarily through support from business. There are 120 strategic partners, including German corporations, and the minimum annual contribution is around CHF 600,000. Normal sponsors pay around half, in addition there are simple members who participate with significantly less. The sponsors get access to the meetings, sometimes also places in the discussion forums as well as further information. Despite the high prices, there is a waiting list.

The big annual meeting has always taken place in Davos for the past 50 years, only in 2002, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, they met in New York out of solidarity - and then returned to Davos. But recently there was always criticism of the location. The prices in Davos are high, the hoteliers and the landlords of holiday apartments take hopelessly inflated prices. "The price gouging is a burden," warned Schwab last summer and called for hotel rooms and accommodation at acceptable prices: "If we no longer see these requirements being met, we would have to look for another location with a heavy heart."

Now it's off to the even more expensive Singapore - because of Corona. But it is the "firm plan" to return to Davos in January 2022, emphasized a WEF spokesman.