- Premier Li says China is open for business
- Lee says the economic recovery from the pandemic is taking hold
- The latest summit speech charm attack on business
- But trade disputes and geopolitics cloud the outlook
BOAO, China (China) (March 30) (Reuters) – Chinese Premier Li Qiang said on Thursday he is committed to opening up and reforming the world’s second-largest economy, seeking to attract foreign investors even as trade and geopolitical tensions with the West loom. .
His keynote address, delivered at a business and political summit in the island province of Hainan, came within a week of Beijing launching a glamorous assault on offshore companies as it seeks to prop up an economy reeling from years of pandemic restrictions.
But prospects for a quick recovery are clouded by strained relations with the United States and its allies over issues including its warm ties with Russia, a muscular stance toward Taiwan and concerns about its use of sensitive technologies.
“No matter what changes happen in the world, we will always adhere to reform and opening up… and introduce a series of new measures in expanding market access and improving the business environment,” Li, who took office this month, told the panel at the annual Boao Forum.
“A China that is confident, open and willing to share should be a formidable force for the prosperity and stability of the world,” he said.
Li, who spoke alongside the prime ministers of Malaysia, Singapore and Spain, earlier this week told a group of foreign executives, including Apple’s Tim Cook, at a summit in Beijing that China is “unwaveringly” committed to opening up.
In his first speech after taking office, Lee pledged to ease the sweeping regulatory crackdown and support private companies. In a sign that the situation may actually be paying off, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group (9988.HK) announced this week that it plans to break up its empire and explore multiple fundraising or listings.
But three years of strict border controls and a series of sweeping lockdowns during the pandemic have undermined business confidence in China, especially among foreign firms, according to sentiment surveys.
COVID restrictions were abruptly dropped in December, and Lee said Thursday there were signs of a recovery beginning.
“Judging by the situation in March, it is better than in January and February. In particular, major economic indicators such as consumption and investment continue to improve, while employment and prices are generally stable,” Li said.
China has set itself a modest target of GDP growth of around 5% this year, having massively missed its target for 2022. That is less than the International Monetary Fund and some private forecasters believe it can achieve.
For some at the conference, Lee’s message to businessmen did not go unnoticed.
“I see more determination in conveying the message that China is really back open for business,” said Dennis Deboe, global managing director at consulting firm Roland Berger.
chaos and conflicts
But there were also cautionary notes.
In veiled comments aimed at the United States, which is working with its allies to block China’s access to advanced technologies such as microchips, Li said Beijing opposed trade protectionism and decoupling.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, speaking at the same panel, said protectionism would mark “a return to the past” and harm relations between China and Europe.
But hours after his speech, the European Commission said it was considering measures to control foreign investment to prevent some sensitive technologies from going to competitors such as China.
Lee’s attempt to win more business also comes at a time of heated rhetoric with the United States, its largest export market.
Taiwan, the democratically-ruled island that China claims as its territory, has been particularly contentious.
In the latest escalation, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in New York on Wednesday for the first of two stops in the United States that Beijing has called provocative.
In his speech, Li said that “chaos and conflicts” should not occur in Asia and that China would act as an “anchor” for world peace.
(Reporting by Joe Cash and Xuyan Wang) Writing by Kevin Yao and John Gede; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Michael Berry, and Sharon Singleton
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