Davos (Switzerland) (AFP) - The global elite kicked off four days of earnest debate and Alpine partying Tuesday in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, in a week bookended by two historic presidential speeches.
One was being given by Xi Jinping, the first Chinese president to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos. Speaking to a packed room, he was expected to seek to turn the page on the US-led global trade order in place since World War II, in favour of a "multipolar" approach.
The other speech will be by Donald Trump when he is inaugurated in Washington as the 45th US president on Friday. His barnstorming conquest of the White House has left many in the globetrotting Davos crowd agog at his repudiation of all that they stand for -- liberal thought, free trade and open borders.
Around 3,000 government leaders, captains of industry, stars of screen and agenda-setting thinkers are braving heavy snow and the chill winds of an anti-globalisation revolt by Western voters to congregate in Davos for the 47th World Economic Forum.
CEOs jostled with philanthropists and experts on artificial intelligence in the queue to remove their snowboots as the event got underway.
Conscious of the sour public mood in the West, organisers are billing the Davos meet as "A call for responsive and responsible leadership", and top business executives agree that they must not appear oblivious to the anger of ordinary people.
"The advantages of globalisation are more clear in emerging markets than in developed countries. We have to listen, to help people that are concerned," Sergio Ermotti, chief executive of Swiss banking giant UBS, told AFP.
A World Economic Forum study said that within advanced economies, median per capita income fell on average 2.4 percent over the past five years, helping to explain why disaffection is so high across the West.
And the scale of the chasm between the richest and poorest was laid bare by an Oxfam report that said eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world's population.
The eight include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who is speaking at the forum this week, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, which like several other companies has remodelled a Davos shop as a promotional "pop-up" venue.
- Perils and parties -
Other research presented by the consultancy Edelman found public confidence in institutions including in governments, business, the media and NGOs slumping across the rich world.
The sense that the world is at an inflection point is apparent in the topics of debate at Davos, across hundreds of different panels.
One panel Tuesday discussed "Why facts don't unify us" any more. Another asked whether the future of work is pregnant with "promise or peril", given the impact of technology on jobs, a theme that is resonating loudly on the electoral front with Trump's victory, Britain's vote to quit the European Union and the rise of far-right parties across Europe.
China, meanwhile, is selling itself as the future as it touts new types of trade agreement shorn of US influence.
Away from debates on weighty issues such as reform of capitalism, artificial intelligence and a cure for cancer, Davos attendees including China's richest man Jack Ma and Hollywood star Matt Damon will get to unwind at exclusive apres-ski events dotted around the town.
But the party for "Davos Man" may be drawing to a close if the anti-elite backlash intensifies.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will address the World Economic Forum on Thursday, two days after outlining her vision for Brexit in another keenly awaited speech.
Paul Sheard, chief economist at S&P ratings agency, said twitchy investors were looking for "a general sense coming out of the speech that they (the British government) have got a game plan".
May's predecessor David Cameron is also attending Davos, and will no doubt offer some rueful remarks on how he so badly misjudged the mood of British voters.
But the week's most consequential speech will come in Washington as Davos winds down Friday.
What response, if any, that Trump offers in his inaugural address to Xi's vision for an alternative world order will provoke much soul-searching among the forum's great and good.