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Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

DAVOS, Switzerland — The question of whether China is a partner or a predator hung over the World Economic Forum this year.

One Davos veteran told Axios the Chinese participants were the "rockstars" of this year's forum. "Every panel has one or two Chinese people, speaking perfect English. They used to linger in the back. Now they are setting the agenda," she said.

  • Another said attendees tend to be sympathetic to China, both for economic reasons and "because they don't understand the Chinese model" and desire for influence around the world.
  • Both asked not to be named because they weren't representing the views of their companies.

The big picture: With all that in mind, three fresh perspectives on what we should make of China's investments around the world, particularly in Africa:

1. Chin Okeke, a Nigerian-born, Mandarin-speaking entrepreneur, said at a panel on the Davos sidelines: "If China is a welcome alternative to what we've had before, and if what China is offering is more attractive, then other players have to step up."

  • On Chinese "debt traps," he said: "As much as we point at China ... as a Nigerian I'd rather look inward, and look at the corruption of African leaders" who are making these deals.

2. Lina Benabdallah, a professor at Wake Forest University, writes in Foreign Policy that if President Trump really wants to counter China's influence in Africa, the U.S. "needs to recognize how China’s influence actually works."

  • "Chinese presidents and premiers make a point of making official trips to Africa as soon as possible after taking office. ... Every year, the Chinese government sponsors thousands of exchange visits, short-term trainings, and scholarships for civil servants, young entrepreneurs, and high-ranking military officers."

3. Jonathan Hillman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes for Axios Expert Voices about a growing worry that "China is using Belt and Road for political gain."

  • "History is filled with examples of states using foreign infrastructure to access territory, harvest resources, shape government policy, dominate technology, and undercut their competitors. In many ways, China is merely updating the playbook used by Western powers during the 19th and 20th centuries to expand its influence."

Go deeper: Trump's new Africa strategy aims to counter China, Russia

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

White House stands by imperiled Tanden nomination after Senate panel postpones hearing

Neera Tanden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is postponing a confirmation hearing scheduled Wednesday for Neera Tanden, Axios has learned, a potential death knell for President Biden's nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

The latest: Asked Wednesday afternoon whether Tanden has offered to withdraw her nomination, Psaki told reporters, "That’s not the stage we’re in." She noted that it's a "numbers game" and a "matter of getting one Republican" to support the nomination.

Acting Capitol Police chief: Officers were unsure of lethal force rules on Jan. 6

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman wrote in prepared remarks for a House hearing on Thursday that officers in her department were "unsure of when to use lethal force" during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Why it matters: Capitol Police did deploy lethal force on Jan. 6 — shooting and killing 35-year-old Ashli Babbit — but have faced questions over why officers appeared to be less forceful against pro-Trump rioters than participants in previous demonstrations, including those over Black Lives Matter and now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

United CEO is confident people will feel safe traveling again by 2022

Axios' Joann Muller and United CEO Scott Kirby. Photo: Axios

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby believes that people will feel safe traveling again by this time next year, depending on the pace of vaccinations and the government's ongoing response to the pandemic, he said at an Axios virtual event.

Why it matters: Misery for global aviation is likely to continue and hold back a broader economic recovery if nothing changes, especially with new restrictions on international border crossings. U.S. airlines carried about 60% fewer passengers in 2020 compared with 2019.