The mystery row at the New Economy Forum


Published on:

The Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore in November was quite a thing.

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger

Deliberately keeping the number of attendees low and the seniority high, the exalted few who made it in to the Capella Hotel on Sentosa found themselves mingling with the likes of Henry Kissinger, Janet Yellen, Hank Paulson and Anwar Ibrahim, most of them without entourages.

Euromoney alone managed a near-collision with former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, who was looking for the library, and we later found ourselves between former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd and a door through which he wished to proceed.

Arriving media were told to get there early for vetting; in Euromoney’s case, at 6.45am on the Deepavali public holiday, at a different hotel, the W, from which we were shipped into a basement services level at the Capella to hang around for an hour and a half before it all got going. It felt like Homeland.

The tone was set swiftly as Mike Bloomberg name-checked Kissinger and Paulson as personal friends in his first minute on-stage. Being a friend of Mike is a powerful thing, and there was a feeling of considerable import.

Feeling of history

Kissinger’s voice is now so deep that at times it can only be detected by whales and advanced sonar. He makes Darth Vader sound like David Beckham. But hearing the man who opened up China with his 1971 visits talking about current trade malaise had a feeling of history about it.

Anwar, for his part, advised anyone who feels they have trouble finding time to read to go to jail for a while.

One thing baffled us. Through the first afternoon, the row immediately in front of the press was reserved, and anyone who tried to sit there was ushered away by an event staffer.

This was carried out with formidable exactitude. At one point Heng Swee Keat, the finance minister of Singapore, sat down in the row, and was asked to move. Somewhat sheepishly, he showed his badge, perhaps pointing out that he is one of the most senior officials in the country, but that didn’t wash with the events woman, who made him stand at the back.

It was dark in there, but we’re pretty sure the same thing happened to Lim Chow Kiat, chief executive of the GIC sovereign wealth fund.

But throughout the session, the mysterious row remained empty. So, who was it for?