A hallmark of the 1980s was the substantial expansion of the membership of the World Economic Forum. By 1989, over half of the Forum’s members came from outside Europe. The change of the Forum’s name two years earlier had been timely and necessary.
The Davos Annual Meeting was the most compelling evidence of the global breadth and depth of the Forum’s activities. Consider the diversity of topics and the richness of the discussions that engaged participants this year. Among the highlights:
- Carlo Rubbia, the 1984 Nobel Physics Prize winner and Director-General of CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or European Council for Nuclear Research), predicted that the world would be forced to give up fossil fuels before their natural end due to high overall costs and that nuclear energy would be the inevitable alternative, with safety the determining factor in its adoption.
- Dean Lester Thurow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management made the provocative prediction that “GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) is dead,” arguing that the world was moving towards three trading blocs: North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific.
- Harry Oppenheimer, former Chairman of Anglo American Corporation, argued that the system of apartheid was fundamentally wrong and anticipated that the current instability in South Africa would lead to change. (One year later, the African National Congress leader and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela would be released from prison.)
- South Korea’s Deputy Prime Minister Cho Soon, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister Radius Prawiro, and Korn Dabbaransi, Minister in the Thai Prime Minister’s Office, three representatives of the Asian economic “tigers”, debated the implications of the region’s new economic power.
Once again, the unique capacity of Davos to bring different perspectives and opposing sides together was on display. For the first time ever, North and South Korea met for discussions at the ministerial level.
Foreseeing the fall of the Berlin Wall, Klaus Schwab invited the heads of 20 countries and regions in Eastern and Western Europe, including West German Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl, to discuss the implications of German reunification and partnerships in the “neighbourhood”.
In addition to 13 country-related events, the Forum held its first meeting on Japan in Tokyo in April, which was co-sponsored by all the leading Japanese industry organizations.
In 1989 there was a lot of pressure on the Forum not to hold the annual Business Leaders Symposium in China in light of the military crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 4 June. After careful consideration and in line with the Forum’s traditional position as a bridge-builder and a platform for open discussion, the meeting went ahead as scheduled.