Mainland officials push delegates to send a message to the WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico China's top trade officials put on a show of economic solidarity during the opening of the fifth Asia-Europe Economic Ministers' Meeting yesterday, saying economic development and co-operation is the key to world peace. A laggard in development and a political malcontent in the 1960s, China has shed its anti-capitalist strategy and emerged as one of the world's top proponents of free trade. In his opening speech to economic ministers from Asia and Europe, Minister of Commerce Lu Fuyuan said: 'At a time when the global economy is facing a slowdown, it is more important than ever for the world to unite all of our resources and to link up our economies. 'We must deepen our co-operation. No nation or district could develop on its own. Economic co-operation is the only way forward and fulfils all of our mutual needs.' Mr Lu used his platform as chairman of the conference to try to persuade his counterparts from 25 Asian and European countries to reach a consensus to promote more free trade, in the run-up to the next round of world trade talks set for Cancun, Mexico, in September. Yi Xiaozhun, a senior commerce ministry official who organised the conference, said: 'If this meeting can send a positive signal to the Cancun meeting [of the World Trade Organisation], then its meaning can be fully realised.' Distracted by the recent US-led war on Iraq and the Sars virus, industrialised and developing nations are having a difficult time reaching a consensus on the goal set at the 2001 world trade talks held at Doha, Qatar. At that meeting, held shortly after the September 11 terrorist strikes on the US, trade officials from industrialised nations broke with the past and tried to come up with an agenda that is more friendly to developing nations. WTO member states then agreed to help developing nations through 'capacity building' measures by instituting global trade policies that would help less developed member states by giving them more flexible trade and tariff conditions. The developed world has since been consumed by the US campaign on terrorism and has backed away from the Doha commitments. A participant in the Doha talks as a new member, the mainland has since been taking a leadership role in reminding WTO member states of their Doha commitments. While the mainland trumpeted its message of global solidarity and care for less developed nations, industrialised nations seemed to have a different agenda. Japan's senior vice-minister for the economy, trade and industry, Taiichiro Nishikawa, couched criticism of China's development while also praising it for its progress. 'The latest handling of the Sars crisis in China has showed there are many lessons still to be learned,' said Mr Nishikawa. 'For companies investing in this country, transparency and predictability is extremely important. If China addresses this issue actively and vigorously, it means China is striving for an even more attractive investment environment.' Mr Nishikawa went on, however, to blast China for being a major centre of industrial piracy. 'Cleaning up the piracy issue is important to the further enhancement of the Japan-China relationship,' he said.