Paris (AFP)

The World Economic Forum, which this year abandons the snows of Davos in favor of a completely virtual format, opens Monday with the speech of Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country seems to have turned the page on the coronavirus, on the economic front at least.

Later today, ECB President Christine Lagarde will debate, alongside French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire, his German counterpart Peter Altmaier and the CEO of Goldman Sachs, on how to "restore economic growth ".

With the mastery of a pandemic that continues to kill all over the world, this is the key question for officials, business leaders and scientists participating in this week of virtual round tables.

The optimism that prevailed in November when vaccines became a reality is no longer in place at the start of the year, marked by the imposition of new restrictions and the progression of variants of the coronavirus.

During the 2020 edition of the WEF, the appearance in China of a mysterious pneumonia - which was not yet a pandemic - still raised only a vague concern.

The economic elite gathered in the wealthy alpine resort was more interested in the passes of arms between Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg than in the confinement decreed in Wuhan.

A year later, when the Republican billionaire has reluctantly left the White House, the Asian continent returns to the front of the stage for this 51st edition, on the theme: "A crucial year to rebuild confidence".

Europe will make a presence statement via French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

The new Biden administration, which has undertaken to reconnect with multilateralism, sends immunologist Anthony Fauci, presidential advisor on the pandemic.

As well as John Kerry, the special envoy for the climate, who will certainly be well received after the decision of the new Democratic president to bring the United States back to the Paris agreement.

Asia will be represented by the Chinese and South Korean presidents, and the Indian and Japanese prime ministers.

As a symbol, after this first virtual session, "Davos" will be transported in May to Singapore, far from the Swiss ski resort where this symposium, created in 1971 by German professor Klaus Schwab, usually takes place.

- "Inequality virus" -

The reason given is "health security", the city-state, which has had to deplore only 29 deaths, being considered safer than Geneva, a time mentioned as a fallback solution.

This particular focus on Asia by the organizers of the World Economic Forum echoes the result of a recent study by credit insurer Euler Hermès showing that, thanks to the epidemic, Chinese GDP should equal GDP. American as early as 2030, two years earlier than anticipated before the crisis.

The only major economy to have achieved growth in 2020, of 2.3%, China also gained market share: its surplus vis-à-vis the United States increased by 7% in 2020, signing the failed trade war led by Donald Trump.

Another big topic debated this week will be that of the rise of inequalities and the risk that this poses to the cohesion of societies - and this while the name of Davos symbolizes, for its critics, the omnipotence of money and the excesses of ultra-liberalism.

The organizers also intend to "re-found capitalism".

Oxfam called for taxing the richest to fight "the virus of inequalities", according to the title of its annual report published on Monday, and which each year serves as a reminder for participants of the World Economic Forum.

As millions of people have plunged into poverty, billionaires have seen their fortunes increase by $ 3.9 trillion between March 18 and December 31, 2020, the NGO calculated.

© 2021 AFP