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Twofold Power Shift Evident at Annual World Economic Forum

By Mark Landler


The World Economic Forum convenes its annual conference here Wednesday with the theme “Shaping the Global Agenda: The Shifting Power Equation.” To judge by the names on the guest list — and those not on it — the phrase aptly reflects the turnout at this high-altitude huddle.

Missing are Davos regulars like Bill Clinton, as well as marquee names from the Bush administration, which is sending only its trade negotiator, a deputy secretary of the Treasury, and a few other officials.

On the list is Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung of Vietnam, newest member of the club of rising world economies, as well as Chad Hurley, the head of YouTube, the Internet site that allows anyone to post a video on the Web.

“The power shift is twofold,” said Klaus Schwab, the Swiss organizer who has managed to keep Davos a hot ticket for three decades by glomming onto the latest political and business trends. “Power is shifting from the center to the periphery, and from the top to the bottom.”

Schwab insists there will be no shortage of familiar names at this Alpine ski resort, with 24 heads of state or government, 85 cabinet ministers and more than 800 corporate chiefs. But the sense of scarcity from the United States, Europe, and elsewhere is hard to miss in the program.

For example, Schwab played down the absence of a top Bush administration official like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was invited to speak but could not find time. Sen. John McCain, a strong presidential candidate, however, will be here to give his views on Iraq and other issues.

“People may be interested to listen to him to get the longer-term perspective,” Schwab said in an interview.

Some of the traditional heavyweights who do plan to attend are themselves victims of fading fortunes. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain will close the conference with a speech that amounts to a farewell address — his tenure running out amid recriminations over the Iraq war.

John Browne, the chief executive of BP and a co-chairman of the conference, has announced he will step down from the giant energy company in July, a year earlier than planned, after a team of outside investigators harshly criticized BP for safety lapses that led to 15 deaths at its Texas refinery.