Xi’s Guangdong trip confirms commitment to nation’s opening up
- President points the way forward for China on visit to province where reform process started 40 years ago as trade war with United States rages
President Xi Jinping’s resolve to overcome the challenges China faces at home and abroad was apparent during his latest inspection tour of Guangdong. Each stop was loaded with meaning, being chosen to send a strong message about the way forward in countering the trade war initiated by the United States and handling the economic slowdown. There was no more timely moment or better place; the province was the testing ground and launch pad 40 years ago for the nation’s economic reforms and opening to the world. The leadership has made clear that those same fundamentals will continue to be the basis for unlocking potential, navigating the nation through the current uncertainty and driving it to even greater heights.
Commitment to the reform process was evident with each of Xi’s stops. There was great symbolism in his opening of the 55km bridge linking Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macau, a metaphor for the integration and cooperation that the “Greater Bay Area”, an innovation and technology powerhouse comprising Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities, will bring. Similarly, his tour of the Gree Electric Appliances headquarters in Zhuhai was the ideal location to stress the importance of private manufacturing to the economy; the company has experienced massive growth to become the nation’s biggest producer of air conditioners. Xi said China had to show “backbone and determination” in growing its own technological strengths and independently innovating.
The necessity has been made obvious by US President Donald Trump’s combative policies. In a globalised world, China cannot turn its back on working with others. The private sector and entrepreneurs have an important role to play and deepening economic reforms and ensuring implementation is essential. Hopes are high that China’s 12 free-trade zones will spur growth and development, and Xi toured those at Henqin in Zhuhai and Qianhai in Shenzhen. A visit to the northern city of Yingde, where some of Guangdong’s most impoverished people live, highlighted another challenge; reforms have to also tackle the wealth gap and poverty. There are different opinions about the shape of reforms and how they are to be achieved, but the Communist Party has set a course and Xi said difficulties and problems had to be overcome “by going along the chosen road”.
Some may be disappointed that Xi did not unveil further tangible reform measures, but his trip was about setting directions, not announcing concrete plans. Nor is a comparison with late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s landmark tour of Guangdong in 1992 fair; circumstances are markedly different. The scale and scope of Xi’s trip showed the difficulties faced and that the leadership recognises what needs to be done and is committed to moving purposefully forward.