Xi Jinping must now meet challenges to deliver on Boao promises
With global protectionism on the rise, the words of the Chinese president herald a new era of openness and reaffirm his commitment to free trade
President Xi Jinping has often spoken of the need for China to open wider its doors to trade and investment. He has been a consistent champion of globalisation and the need to uphold and protect existing international institutions.
The same sentiments were expressed at the Boao Forum for Asia yesterday, but the circumstances were significantly different; he was speaking from an unbridled position of strength, the recent removal of term limits for the presidency giving him the latitude needed to steer his vision of restoring the nation to its rightful place as a world power. The initiatives he laid out and the pledge to “translate them into reality, sooner rather than later”, therefore had special meaning.
This is, after all, the 40th anniversary of China’s opening to the outside world. Behind Xi’s words, but not directly mentioned, was the trade conflict with the United States being driven by its president, Donald Trump.
Xi seized the moment at the Hainan gathering of influential political and business leaders to reiterate his commitment to free trade and globalisation. His message was directed not just at Trump, but the world and was needed at a time of uncertainty.
For China, that means a new era of openness and the four initiatives Xi put forward should put the nation firmly on that course. A promise was made to significantly broaden market access, with landmark measures to be announced this year in services involving the insurance industry and foreign financial institutions, and in car manufacturing.
To create a more attractive investment environment, the old way of giving favourable treatment to particular foreign investors would be shunned in favour of transparency, the rule of law, opposing monopolies and encouraging competition. Such a policy is a marked change and essential if openness is to be realised.
Answering one of Trump’s much-voiced criticisms, Xi pledged to strengthen intellectual property rights. But protecting what companies have created is a two-way street, involving Chinese as well as foreign firms. Lastly, imports would be expanded with an eye on higher quality products to meet expectations and improve lives.
Proving Xi means business, he announced the first China International Import Expo, to be held in Shanghai in November, will become an annual event.
Boao was where Xi promoted his “Belt and Road Initiative” and more than 80 countries have now shown an interest. Fittingly, he has used the forum to again voice an important moment in China’s development, the next stage of its opening up. He now has the authority to guide his vision into reality and he must firmly implement policies. Expectations at home and abroad are high, so the challenge is how he can deliver.