The emergence of China and India as global economic and political powerhouses will figure prominently on the agenda of this year's World Economic Forum, which begins next week in Davos, Switzerland. As in previous years, this small Alpine village will act as a magnet for many of the world's leading business, political, cultural and religious personalities to meet and debate some of the most pressing issues of the day.
More than 2,300 participants from 89 countries will make their way to Davos. They include 15 heads of state or government, 60 cabinet ministers, and many religious, cultural, union and humanitarian leaders. More than half of the participants are business leaders, including 70 percent who figure on Forbes magazine's list of top 100 executives.
The Conference will be opened by speeches given by Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel and China's Vice Premier, Kim Hyun Chong.
Presiding over this group will be Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. He says the key issue for him will be the shift of power from the West to the East.
"The rise of China and India," he said. "Not as a threat, but as an opportunity. And, all the consequences it has geo-economically and geo-politically. We see the first consequences in increased competition for natural resources. We probably will see the integration of those powers into a much more multi-polar global governance system."
Forum Managing Director Ged Davis says the race between China and India is creating a structural shift in the global economy. He says other changes in the economic landscape also will be debated at Davos.
"In particular, current concerns, for example, about oil prices, the economic imbalances that we see, significant deficits in the U.S., surpluses in Asia," he said. "How this will unwind is a matter of real concern. There are a very positive set of views about the global economy for the coming year. But, nevertheless, there are risks there. And this shapes in some way significantly the political debate."
Politics is likely to play a role at Davos. The annual meeting will take place before the Israeli elections. Forum organizers note the issues of Iran and Iraq will come up and terrorism is expected to be a recurring theme.
Africa was the number one issue at last year's forum. While no special sessions are to be devoted to the continent this year, organizers say Africa is not forgotten. Richard Samans is managing director in charge of public-private partnerships. He says many commitments were made to Africa last year and those now are being followed up.
"The forum itself has served and is serving as a platform for a number of very specific public-private collaborations related to poverty alleviation," he said. "We are quite proud of this development because increasingly, we have seen our members interested in seeing how their core business capabilities, their core business competencies-whether it is assets, people, skills or marketing distribution capabilities are relevant to the big development challenges in Africa and other regions of the world."
Samans says these private-public partnerships are involved in a range of projects that include combating infectious diseases in Africa, improving water management and better access to safe water.