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The world order is being redefined

Illustration of a cut up and rearranged world map
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

DAVOS, Switzerland — By the end of the week-long annual gathering of the world's elite here, the procession of leaders had given an inkling of the world order to come.

The big picture: "We may have to get used to a more modest definition of 'liberal world order,'" Columbia University economic historian Adam Tooze told Axios. That likely means removing liberal politics as a requirement to join the club.

What they're saying:

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the "global architecture will only work if we are willing to compromise," accept a changing balance of power, and assuage "those who harbor doubts about the international system."
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, representing the U.S. via video link, argued that the "disruption is a positive development." International institutions can never "stand up for a people as well as their own leaders can," he said, and will only endure if pulled into this century.
  • It fell to Vice President Wang Qishan of China, the main threat to the liberal order and core to shaping whatever replaces it, to argue for an ambitious global system — on Beijing's terms.

What's next: There will still be rules the major players can agree to. "You could have a liberal trading system with a majority of authoritarian regimes," Tooze said.

  • But at this stage, the divided West is "not really in a position to go around postulating orders," he said, and even if it were, "China is simply not going to go along with it."
  • Counterpoint: We spoke to other experts who said that ceding space to China is exactly the wrong approach, and that the West has to go further to assert itself.

The bottom line: No one we met told us the world order will survive in its current form.

Go deeper: Read the full Davos Special Report

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