Two important aspects at this year’s Delphi Economic Forum, both sealed by geopolitics:

China’s altered presence and the emergence of the OECD as a new “player”

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Tackling uncertainty and attempting to offer some kind of guarantee/expectation regarding the return of normalcy at every level (from the world economy and the recovery of investment dynamics after the Ukrainian crisis to rebalancing European planning or managing environmental challenges in the light of the new architectural security and the newly emerged energy crisis), that was the feeling that pervaded most of the presentations/placements at this year’s 7th Delphi Economic Forum (DEF). To the extent one needs directly optimistic news from Delphi, it was certainly Albert Burla’s announcement that mRNA vaccine research on Covid will most likely lead to a cancer vaccine within the next three years. However, going a little further towards a critical approach as to how the atmosphere was portrayed as having “changed”, two key-areas can be highlighted.

The first one was the role projected for the Chinese in international relations, which was quite different from the past. In previous phases it was more like an attempt to get to know China: this year, a presentation of how difficult it is for the West /Europe/Greece to handle the Chinese alliance with Russia regarding the invasion of Ukraine was attempted. Thus, next to the “official” Chinese position of the Ambassador to Athens Xiao Junzheng and the people under the Chinese-administered PPA or the Bank of China, who continued to unfold the intention of financial presence and cooperation (as a result of the ongoing One Belt/One Road policy), we also had the presentation of Professor Yanzhong Huang (Senior Fellow for Global Health, Council of Foreign Relations, USA) and Professor Cheng Li (Director and Senior Fellow, The John L. Thornton China Center, The Brookings Institution, USA), who tried to reinterpret the Chinese stance on the new geopolitical reality. From the ongoing management of “zero-Covid”, which imposed a lockdown in Shanghai and threatens Shenzhen as well (two major cities, with many times the population of Greece…, in a new era of global supply chain disruption) to the coexistence of President Xi and President Putin in the joint statement (5,000 words) on the “China-Russia borderless relationship, in all spheres of action”, which came on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the interpretation of the Chinese position and the attempt to project it into the future was made in Delphi –in fact, in the wider panels of International Relations– with clear embarrassment. In the meantime, the dimension of the US/West moves, i.e. the AUKUS alliance or the QUAD initiative, which has a clear logic of restricting China, as well as the new attempt to create a geopolitical projection of Pacific/Indian by the West, was often confronted in Delphi with the reality that, if the “democracies”/“authoritarian countries” division includes Russia and India next to China, this second sphere ends up comprising 40+% of the world’s population that owns 25% of world GDP. Which is quite uncomfortable… Especially if one seeks to project into a future such as the deconstruction of globalization, a substitute for economic dynamism that –in recent decades– has come from the Far East and Southeast Asia is “needed”.

The other area of ​​interest highlighted in Delphi was the new/re-emerging meeting of the economy with the geopolitical approach, with the latter claiming once again a leading role after the Ukrainian crisis. This is where a new “player” appears regarding the new balance of priorities: the OECD. Returning to the starting point of its presence in post-war Europe, namely managing the Marshall Plan resources as OEEC, after decades of existing as an international organization mainly economic, partly scholarly, most recently in the forefront of multinational companies’ international taxation, OECD now comes along and tries to re-introduce itself as a body that showcases principles and approaches that might seek to characterize the new West/East division. It was yesterday already, in a first panel, that Professor Emeritus, University of Sorbonne, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, OECD, George Prevelakis, the former Minister of Finance (2014-15) and current Chair of the Board, National Bank of Greece, Gikas Hardouvelis, and Deputy Secretary-General, OECD, Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen (Danish) explored this new geopolitical and economic balance. Besides, next Saturday, Kyriakos Mitsotakis will make his own appearance in Delphi with the (newly elected) Secretary-General of the OECD, Mathias Cormann (Australian).

The conclusion might sound mundane; however, the Castalian Spring and the Oracle proximity makes this year’s seeking direction amid uncertainty more reasonable than ever.