India, ASEAN Impress at Davos, While China Wobbles

The 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) unfolded from January 15–19 in Davos, Switzerland. India sent 100 delegates to Davos as part of a charm offensive designed to woo investors and build on momentum from last year, when the country hosted the G20, surpassed China as the world’s most populous nation, and completed a historic mission to the Moon.  

In 2023, Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder and executive chairman, called India “a bright spot” amid geopolitical crises, an enthusiasm that persisted into 2024: Sriram Gutta, the WEF’s India lead, argued in a recent article that, by 2029, New Delhi could become the world’s third-largest economy.  

India takes seat at ‘global high table’

In one WEF panel discussion, Aparna Pande, Research Fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of Making India Great: The Promise of a Reluctant Global Power, told the audience that “2023 cemented India’s position at the global ‘high table.’” She noted that India is being considered as “the next global power, not just a regional power.”  

New Delhi expects GDP growth for the fiscal year ending in March to settle at an impressive 7.3 per cent. Foreign direct investment into the country, however, continues to slump after a banner year in 2022, and youth unemployment remains staggeringly high.  

A recent announcement by Ottawa to cap new international student visas for two years could cause further headaches for some Indian youth and their families. In 2022, Indian students held around 40 per cent of Canada’s study permits. As of last month, Canada had just over one million study permit holders. 

China’s GDP announcement raises eyebrows  

China boasted a Davos delegation of around 150 officials but failed to make the same impact as India. China's premier, Li Qiang, told a WEF crowd that "choosing the Chinese market is not a risk but an opportunity.” While at the WEF meeting, Li announced that China’s GDP grew 5.2 per cent in 2023, in line with Beijing’s objective of “around five per cent.” But critics questioned the accuracy of the data: Rhodium Group, a New York-based research provider, estimated growth as low as 1.5 per cent.   

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin also attracted attention at Davos. He promoted ASEAN and teased an impending tourism arrangement with Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, telling Nikkei that the arrangement, modelled on Europe’s Schengen Area, could be less than a year away. Davos attendees were bullish on ASEAN generally, and ‘VIP markets’ — Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines — emerged as something of an acronym du jour, per Politico.