Video screens show Chinese President Xi Jinping as he delivers an address to the opening ceremony of the third China International Import Expo in Shanghai on Wednesday. Photo: AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday opened the third China International Import Expo (CIIE), said to be the world’s biggest trade fair this year amid the global pandemic, with a keynote speech that highlighted China’s unwavering commitment to further opening up its market to global businesses, and helping boost global cooperation, as the world faces tremendous risks and uncertainties from COVID-19, rising protectionism and other challenges.
During his first speech at a global event since the tone-setting fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Xi elaborated on China’s new development strategies and priorities, and reassured the global business community of China’s continued openness, despite focus on boosting the domestic economy and indigenous innovation.
With enthusiasm for the third CIIE, foreign businesses also showed confidence in the resilience and prospects of the world’s second-largest economy, as well as China’s ability to beat the deadly coronavirus. The CIIE, which is expected to see over 2,700 firms from 120 countries and regions and 400,000 buyers, opened as fresh waves of COVID-19 hit many parts of the world.
Highlights of President Xi’s speech at CIIE 2020 Infographic: GT
“As scheduled and confident in the containment protocols that have been put in place, China is hosting this global trade event. It demonstrates China’s sincere desire to share its market opportunities with the world and contribute to global economic recovery,” Xi said, stressing that China’s new “dual circulation” development strategy is not “a development loop behind closed doors, but more open domestic and international circulation.”
The president noted that the Chinese market has the world’s biggest potential, with 1.4 billion people and over 400 million middle-income earners. China is estimated to import $22 trillion in products in the next 10 years.
Xi’s speech came a day after the CPC Central Committee released the full text of the proposals for formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, which outlined a “dual circulation” strategy, under which China is seeking to drastically boost the domestic consumer market to ensure long-term sustainable growth free from foreign risks, and an innovation-driven strategy that calls for a breakthrough in core technologies.
The focus on the domestic market and indigenous innovation has sparked speculation that China might turn inward as it tries to fend off external risks. However, the Chinese President made it clear that China will open up at an even higher standard.
Among detailed measures, Xi announced that China would shorten its catalog of technologies prohibited or restricted from imports to create a favorable environment for the free flow of technologies across borders, and pursue multilateral trade cooperation through agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or the RCEP.
“The speech sends a very clear signal of China’s confidence and resolve in not only continuing to open up to the world, but also in actively pushing for global cooperation,” Wang Jun, an expert at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday, adding that the focus on the domestic market only means more room for imports of high-quality foreign products, and opportunities for foreign businesses.
While the 14th Five-Year Plan and long-range goals for 2035 discuss the “dual circulation” strategy, opening-up also remained a key theme in the documents, with the Chinese character for “opening” mentioned 23 times, compared three times for the character “self-dependence.”
“With the third CIIE opening in Shanghai as scheduled… China is sending an important and positive signal to the world that China has not only contained the epidemic, but will also continue an open attitude,” Song Weiqun, Chairman of Johnson & Johnson China, said in a statement sent to the Global Times on Wednesday.
That sentiment of confidence in China’s market potential and opening-up policies were also echoed by many foreign businesses attending the CIIE, including those from countries that have souring diplomatic ties with China, such as the US and Australia.
“If the first two CIIEs were to show the world opportunities in China, this year’s unchanged ‘CIIE promise’ amid the epidemic is to show the world China’s confidence – confidence in beating the epidemic, in high-quality growth of the Chinese economy, and in sticking to the win-win, open path,” Zhang Jun, president of US medical device maker Boston Scientific Greater China, said in a press release sent to the Global Times on Wednesday.
Boston Scientific is among 196 US businesses attending the CIIE this year, slightly up from last year’s 192 – underscoring the growing interests in China’s market despite some US officials’ call for a decoupling.
Also defying diplomatic tensions are about 200 Australian companies attending the expo. Despite heightened tensions due to the Australian government’s hostile approach toward China and strengthened inspections of certain Australian imports by Chinese Customs, Australian businesses are set to promote products such as wine and beef – another testament to the attractiveness of the Chinese market.
More than 2,700 businesses from over 120 countries and regions are attending the event, despite COVID-19. While the number of exhibitors is slightly down from last year’s 3,000, the exhibition area grew by 30,000 square meters. Further demonstrating the rising profile of the CIIE is the virtual participation in the ceremony of several world leaders, including Pakistani President Arif Alvi, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
“The CIIE has become a beacon of reassurance in China’s future. L’Oréal China strongly identifies with China’s promise of further facilitating globalization,” Jean-Paul Agon, the company’s president and CEO, said in a statement to the Global Times on Wednesday.
Aside from the CIIE, China’s commitment and confidence in further opening up is expected to be highlighted in the coming days in Shanghai, where celebrations are also planned to mark the 30th anniversary of the Pudong New Area – another frontier of China’s decades-long opening-up policies.
“The current difficulties… won’t shake the country’s determination to open up to the world,” Zhao Hao, vice general manager of Shanghai Waigaoqiao Group, which was among the first firms to move into Pudong, told the Global Times, noting that there were “more uncertainties” back in the 1990s.