The attendees of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos are not exactly used to being told what to do. The Swiss resort draws the global elite: The highest-powered investment bankers, the top government officials and leaders, the biggest philanthropists, and the most famous celebrities, who gather each year to solve the world's most pressing problems and still have time for evening cocktails.
But in January 2009, the Davos crowd had to listen to a blistering lecture from a most unlikely source. The first senior Chinese leader to attend the World Economic Forum, former premier Wen Jiabao, some thought, might take a low-key approach to his speech to the Forum. But at Davos, that genial grandpa was not in evidence. Months after Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering the global economic crisis, Wen told the Davos attendees that the West was squarely to blame for the meltdown roiling the entire world.
Five years earlier, such a broadside from a Chinese leader would have been unthinkable. Until the end of 2008 nearly every top Chinese official still lived by Deng Xiaoping's old advice to build China's strength while maintaining a low profile in international affairs. But in 2008 and 2009 the global economic crisis decimated the economies of nearly every leading democracy, while China surfed through the downturn virtually unscathed. The economic crisis, said former U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, has left "the American model … under a cloud."