Singapore is a natural home for the World Economic Forum’s annual shindig. Although rubber shoe covers are more appropriate footwear than crampons, the tropical city state makes for a decent approximation of Davos, the alpine Swiss enclave that regularly hosts the event. It is clean, safe and has one of the world’s best-connected airports. The place also functions as a regional private wealth hub and is neutral enough. With a future billionaire class emerging from Asia, it might even suit as a more permanent site.
The island nation could truly claim its mantle as “the Switzerland of the east” now that the WEF has chosen Singapore for its 2021 gathering in May. The resurgence of coronavirus-related lockdowns in Europe has scuppered Chairman Klaus Schwab’s original Plan B, to keep the festivities in Switzerland, in nearby Lucerne-Buergenstock. Like Switzerland, the Asian hub has had its bank scandals too with institutions engulfed in the 1MDB money laundering drama.
A faster return to normalcy makes Singapore, which shrugged off most domestic pandemic containment restrictions in June, an obvious choice. Hong Kong’s political tensions are an obstacle. A new national security law imposed by Beijing, where loosely defined crimes of subversion and collusion with foreign forces can be punished with up to life in prison, would be a turn-off for many visitors from democratic nations.
It has been nearly two decades since chief executives and statesmen convened for the event somewhere other than Davos. In 2002, New York was chosen, supposedly out of solidarity after the 9/11 attacks, but senior U.S. delegates also were reluctant to travel overseas because of security concerns.
A shift east is profound because it follows the money. Asia is home to 831 billionaires, per the latest edition of a report on the world’s richest people by UBS and PwC. It is the region with the highest tally, representing 38% of the total billionaire population holding wealth amounting to $10.2 trillion. They are a more self-made bunch than their Western counterparts and their fortunes have proved to be more resilient of late. Singapore’s landing of the Davos set in 2021 means it’s auditioning for a more enduring role.