Davos: What Abe said

Shinzo Abe Mr Abe sees China's military build-up as provocative

So here I am, again, on the top of a Swiss mountain, surrounded by the world's wealthiest and most powerful.

And, as per normal, I am suffering from mild altitude sickness.

Here is a typical (and true) conversation with a random stranger sitting in the partners' lounge of the Davos congress centre.

"Where are you from? Your badge says India."

"Well, I sit on the board of a big Indian institution, but I am a former minister of a Eurasian state, and I now have US citizenship, but I manage my money from a family office in London."

Yikes. I didn't ask the size of the fortune, but the phrase "family office" speaks to non-trivial sums: the turmoil and wealth-creating opportunities of the globalised world, since the collapse of communism, captured in a social introduction.

And before you ask, I inserted the catch-all "Eurasian" to protect the anonymity of said member of the global plutocracy (them is the rules of the World Economic Forum).

As for the rest of my day so far, I have nattered to a FTSE 100 chairman, two FTSE 100 chief executives, two heads of big City institutions, a Middle Eastern philanthropist, a hedge-fund superstar and a government head.

And all meetings were serendipitous.

So, amidst the hand-wringing about what they all see as the UK's growing isolation from the EU (Davos person is genetically pro-European) and bullishness about the UK's economic recovery, in just four hours I have gathered enough story leads to keep me occupied for some time.

For a journalist of my eccentric interests, Davos is like being let loose in the sweetshop.

More impact

What is on the minds of these eminences?

Well, the most interesting conversation so far was an (unusual) on-the-record briefing for a few hacks by Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

Why was this gripping (and a bit scary)?

Well, he volunteered that Japan's current bad relations with China are redolent of the relationship between Britain and Germany 100 years ago, or shortly before World War 1.

Which is the sort of thing you would expect clever-clogs commentators to say (in fact they do say this), but it has more impact (ahem) when said by Japan's leader.

And, indeed, he elaborated.

He recognises that - just like Britain and Germany in 1914 - Japan and China are inter-dependent economies, trading partners with huge mutual interests.

Peace would therefore be the bulwark of their prosperity and that of the region.

But he was explicit that he saw the 10% per annum increase in China's defence budget as a provocation.

As for his controversial visit to the Yasukuni shrine, there was explanation, but no hint of regret or apology. Mr Abe simply insisted that China was wrong to see him as honouring a small number of "war criminals". Instead, he was paying respect to the "souls" of millions of other genuine Japanese war heroes.

And, by the way, Japan's title to the Senkaku Islands, which China disputes, is unimpeachable (or so Mr Abe said).

Given that Mr Abe says he wants peace with China and fears there could be "accidents" that shatter it, I asked him if he had a road map or plan to de-escalate the tension

Not while China pursues its military build-up, he said.

Which left me with a hollow feeling that is somewhat characteristic of encounters in this rarefied place.

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Yasukuni shrine is an insult.China's military buildup is a threat.But unlike 100 years ago the US Navy, by far the most powerful in the world (as large as the next 13 combined) is there along with as much other support as needed to contain Chinese aggression.The real threat is China will not understand it is hugely outclassed militarily and economically by the US which could bankrupt it instantly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Don't you just love the BBC gloat and stick in the eye to licence fee payers? The "I'm in Davos yah boo sucks" along with a coterie of other BBC freeloaders. Davos, Sochi, any Olympics, World Cup , Commonwealth Games and countless other events, the BBC knows how to over employ and waste on a Biblical scale. All this on a day when unemployment falls. Coincidence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.


    Last refuge of the terminally stupid warmonger.

    Wasn't one of the predictions of the economic collapse in 2008 that the occurrence of wars and the rumours of wars would rise.

    Abenomics = gearing up for a wartime economy.

    I always take Japanese businesses associates by Field Marshal Archibald Percival Wavell's statute in Whitehall as a warning against xenophobia and nationalism

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    'Gulf over Assad'

    BBC, you've sold us to the devil, and we ain't payin any more;
    Where do YOU go from here?

    Public opinion ain't on your side..

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.


    On going illegal occupation and cultural cleansing of Tibet
    Support for North Korea
    Sabre rattling over various border disputes.

    You need to educate yourself:
    1 Go to UN's website
    2 China intermediates any talks, provides food to NK and receives its refugees, So you're welcome
    3. China at least doesn't have disputes with countries that don't border it, unlike ......


Comments 5 of 189



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