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Opinion

World Economic Forum in Singapore will be safe and successful

Special annual meeting will be a major step in building post-COVID future

| Singapore
Last year's World Economic Forum annual meeting held in Davos in January 2020: the importance of bringing decision-makers together in-person cannot be underestimated.   © Reuters

From Peter Vanham, World Economic Forum, Geneva.

In the article "Reckless plan to move Davos 2021 to Singapore must be abandoned" written by William Pesek and published in Nikkei Asia on Jan. 18, the author calls plans to organize the World Economic Forum in Singapore in May "reckless" and "about money." It "must be abandoned," he writes, because it is "likely to become a superspreader event." The piece however only uses unsubstantiated claims and instills fear. Here are the facts.

If public health conditions allow, the World Economic Forum will convene a special annual meeting in Singapore, May 25-28. It would give global stakeholders the chance to meet in person for the first time in over a year, and allow the rebuilding of trust and collaboration. As such, the meeting would be a major step in building the post-COVID future.

The crucial "if" in this plan is whether "public health conditions allow" it to proceed. Indeed, only if the meeting can be held in a safe and healthy way, does it make sense for it to go ahead. If not, then neither Singapore, nor the World Economic Forum would allow it to proceed. It would go against everything we have worked so hard to achieve in this crisis.

At no point has the World Economic Forum taken any chances for itself, its employees, or its constituents during this crisis. It has instead been at the forefront of the public health response. After early warnings from our offices in Beijing, our Geneva, New York and San Francisco offices closed weeks before such measures were taken by local authorities. Since March, we have organized no physical events, and moved almost entirely online.

Nor has "money" been a driver in any of our activities since then. Again, the contrary is true. In the initial phase of the crisis, the corporate leaders we convened rallied behind the public health response, donating supplies, or offering their production or logistics capacities. More recently, WEF and its partners have worked on measures to implement stakeholder capitalism, including corporate practices driven by long-term societal interests, rather than short-term profit incentives.

The importance of bringing decision-makers from East and West, from business and politics, and from science and civil society together in-person, however, cannot be underestimated, and it remains one of the cornerstones of a functional global system. This past year showed us not only what happens when a pandemic spreads among the population, but also how quickly the social fabric evaporates when virtually the entire world is locked at home.

Organizing a meeting with key stakeholders from around the world is about much more than restarting air travel, hotel and conferences -- even though these heavily-hit sectors could use all support they can get. It is about reversing trends toward social isolation, protectionism, xenophobia, and polarization. And it is about giving people hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We are grateful that the government of Singapore has joined us in achieving this ambitious task. The country is among the few in the world that has managed to contain the COVID pandemic, and has been able to cautiously restart its social and economic life. We could not think of a better partner to organize this special annual meeting with.

While online meetings have been crucial, there are some elements of human interaction that best take place in person. Probably any reader can attest that many of the firmest bonds they've built in life, including in their professional identity, happened after spending time with other people, in person. So it is with the world's political, business and civil society leaders.

That is why we are doing all we can to make this special annual meeting a reality. If we succeed, it will be a strong signal that the world is making progress in the fight against COVID.

More than anything, it would help to restore trust, and reestablish global cooperation as a building block to build the future. But let one thing be crystal clear: it will happen safely and successfully, or it won't happen at all.

We welcome readers' letters via email to letters.editor@nex.nikkei.co.jp. Please see our guidelines.

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