Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday called for Asian leaders to join hands to create a beacon of hope to lead the world out of recession and called for multinationals to stay in the region. In a 20-minute opening speech addressing 1,600 representatives at the Boao Forum for Asia yesterday, he warned the path of recovery for the world's economy would be difficult, although he also sent an upbeat note that China's stimulus package had paid off in the first quarter. 'We should see that the global financial crisis is still spreading and the trend for global recession has not changed. The problems with the financial system are not yet solved and the deterioration of the economy is worse than expected,' Mr Wen said in the televised speech. 'It may take a longer and winding process for the world economy to recover.' He pledged that China would take an active role in pursuing closer economic and trade co-operation in the region. 'The fate of all nations is tied together, no one is immune from the global financial crisis and is able to conquer it alone,' Mr Wen said. China's actions to promote co-operation include a US$10 billion fund to advance economic development in Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries and the expansion of regional foreign- exchange reserves from US$80 billion last December to US$120 billion. Mr Wen also called for more free-trade zones in the region and vowed that China would encourage trade settlement in yuan with neighbouring countries. He pointed out that the central government earlier this month allowed Shanghai and four cities in Guangdong to settle trade in yuan in an unprecedented scheme paving the way for full-convertibility of the currency. Hong Kong stands to be the fifth city in the pilot scheme, pending approval. He also made a candid appeal to multinationals to stay in the region and not lay off people. 'Companies in the region, especially multinationals, as long as they persist in this territory and minimise factory closures and layoffs ... they will certainly make new strides when facing the crisis.' He reiterated his call for regional and business leaders to have confidence. 'I said that confidence is more precious than gold and money,' he said. 'Today, what I want to add is hope. Hope is light, which brightens the way of nations, companies and people and never fades.' The mainland economy is faring well with 2.68 million new jobs created in cities in the first quarter of the year, as well as strong fixed asset investment and domestic consumption figures. 'China's rapid reaction in rolling out the stimulus package has resolved some prominent problems in the economy, strengthened market confidence and stabilised people's expectation,' Mr Wen said. The government would continue its proactive fiscal policy while the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, will maintain its 'moderately loose' monetary policy, he said. Without indicating if China will roll out another round of stimulus measures, Mr Wen said the country was preparing for the worst, with boosting domestic demand a priority. 'We would rather overestimate the severity of the situation and fully consider difficulties in making longer-term preparation for bigger difficulties,' he said. Zheng Xinli, the deputy research head for the central committee of the Communist Party, said at the forum yesterday that China 's economy had bottomed out and economic growth may recover this quarter to 7 per cent.