DAVOS, Switzerland – World leaders in favor of international cooperation and free trade struck back Wednesday against the wave of populist nationalism that has featured more prominently than usual at the gathering of elites in Davos, Switzerland.
As a dizzying array of heads of state — from Poland to Colombia to Rwanda — addressed the political and business tycoons, the question of global cooperation emerged as a dividing line. The leaders of Japan and Germany — countries that have flourished on trade since their devastation under nationalist leaders in World War II — focused on the need for cooperation.
It was a not-so-subtle dig at earlier speeches by the populist president of Brazil and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said governments should focus more on national self-interest over international rules.
"I believe that it's worth bringing together like-minded people around the world, because anything else will lead us into despair," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
She said efforts to combat global problems — from an economic slowdown to tensions over trade, Brexit and migration — "will only function if we are able to compromise."
She cited as a positive example a free-trade deal between the European Union and Japan that will take effect Feb. 1.
Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, put a similarly strong focus on working together, noting another trade deal, among Pacific Rim countries. He warned, however that there are risks.
While Abe and Merkel squarely warned against taking punitive measures like U.S. President Donald Trump has — without going through international institutions like the World Trade Organization to settle disputes — both Japan and European countries have complained about China.
Abe said the WTO needs to be overhauled.
"Major changes are taking place and the WTO is behind the curve — it's not keeping up with pace," Abe said "We need to reform it."
Efforts were underway to defuse the U.S.-China dispute, with a high-level Chinese delegation expected to visit Washington on Jan. 30.
The level of tensions remained intense, however.
China's vice president used his own speech in Davos to take shots at Trump and his administration.
"Shifting blame for one's own problems onto others will not resolve the problems," said Wang Qishan.