Marx, Mao and me: What I learned from the New Economy Forum

Marx, Mao and me: What I learned from the New Economy Forum

Marx, Mao and me: What I learned from the New Economy Forum
Gary Cohn speaks during a panel discussion at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing, on Nov. 22. (Takaaki Iwabu/Bloomberg via Twitter)

The annual Bloomberg New Economy Forum (NEF) moved seamlessly from Singapore, where it was held last year, to Beijing, where it might be held regularly from now on. That is the current plan, but there are a number of variables that could come into play over the next 12 months.

There is the basic conflict that might arise from staging a media-focused event, dedicated to open and free discussion, in a totalitarian one-party state that — by way of example — prevents visitors with journalism visas from seeing the sights in Tiananmen Square, as I discovered.

Though Chinese sensibilities did not seem to prevent delegates from speaking their mind at the event this year, there is no knowing how events between China and the Americans might inhibit future conversations. Could it be held in China in the event of a brutal crackdown in Hong Kong, for example, or a serious escalation of the trade war between the two countries?

Mike Bloomberg will have to seriously think on these possibilities. This year he was “serving his country,” in the words of Hank Paulson, who stood in for him at the opening ceremony, but there must have been other considerations, too.

How would it go down among US voters in the forthcoming round of primaries if Bloomberg, seeking the Democratic nomination in the most polarized election for a long time, appeared to be chumming up with the people Donald Trump has labeled “cheats” and “enemies ” of the US?

There will also be problems with timing next year. The US goes to the polls just about the time the NEF is due to be held. If Bloomberg is a presidential candidate, he would, of course, have to send his regrets again, but even having his name all over the event might be problematic in the highly charged atmosphere of a presidential election.

So perhaps the NEF might find itself on the road again for the third time in as many years. That would be a shame, because the Beijing event had a lot going for it, with a top-level attendee list and a packed agenda.

The Yanqi Lake conference center won me over in the end. What had seemed like the architecture of Communist brutalism in the cold dark of the early morning warmed into exotic orientalist landscaping in the misty afternoon sun.

The Beijing NEF had a novelty value, too. It was the first business forum I have ever attended where the names of Marx, Lenin and Mao Zedong were mentioned approvingly in the welcome speech.

• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai

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