Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao brought cautious optimism to business and government leaders pondering the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression as the World Economic Forum opened Wednesday.
Wen said China, a key market for companies in developed countries, believed it would be able to meet its target of 8 percent economic growth for 2009.
But, he conceded, it is "a tall order." "China remains on the track of steady and fast development," he said, but added that in the fourth quarter, growth had slowed to 6.85.
Eight percent would be phenomenal in many countries, but would still represent retrenchment for China, where growth in 2008 hit a seven-year low of 9%. That broke a five-year streak of double-digit expansion.
Wen spoke to the gathering of 2,500 political, business and other leaders in the Swiss Alps after an opening day of debate over state-led bailouts and worries that efforts to counter climate change would fall by the wayside.
The annual meeting of politicians, well-heeled business leaders and well-meaning activists and celebrities gathered under a pall of gloom that has seen personal fortunes trimmed, companies shuttered and hundreds of thousands jobs lost.
People are "depressed and traumatized," Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp., said, adding that worldwide some "$50 trillion of personal wealth" had vanished since the crisis worsened with the September 15 collapse of US investment bank Lehman Bros. Co.
"The size of the problem confronting us today is larger than in the 1930s," said billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
The scope of the decline was evident even among the gift bags that attendees - who pay thousands of dollars to participate - received this year. Instead of loaded personal digital assistants, fine Swiss chocolates and gadgets, they got basic, blue-hued pedometers instead, suggesting shoe leather instead of limos as a way to get to meetings.
Some of the biggest players contributing to the economic slide stayed away, some of them bankrupt or fired. So did top economic policy makers in US President Barack Obama's new administration.
Previous years saw a raft of A-list star power: Claudia Schiffer, Angelina Jolie and U2 frontman Bono. This year it's Peter Gabriel and film star Jet Li.
Despite talk of more regulation and government intervention, there were pleas for free market.
"Don't let's lose sight of what creates wealth. It is open markets, it is capitalism," said Murdoch.
Economist Stephen Roach gave a grim forecast for the global economic outlook, saying growth worldwide for the next three years was only likely to be about 2.5% - what the Morgan Stanley Asia chairman and longtime Davos attendee termed a "near recession." That compares with 5% growth over the last four and a half years.
But even that was deemed optimistic by some participants.
Experts said stimulus packages by developed nations wouldn't be enough to pull the world out of the crisis, with some calling instead for a coordinated fiscal response with a greater role for multilateral institutions like the Group of 20 wealthy and developing nations.
Among the 2,500 participants in Davos are over 40 heads of state who will discuss this year's theme of "shaping the post-crisis world" in fields such as energy, climate change and free trade.