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Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Centre, the main venue for the expo. Photo: Xinhua

China’s import expo to woo world with Pakistani fashion show and matchmaking British firms

  • Charm offensive ‘could discourage other economies from uniting with US against China’
  • Xi speech likely to send message of market opening, free trade

China is promising an international flavour at next week’s import expo in Shanghai to try to restore the world’s confidence and fortify its economy against the trade war with the US.

Britain-China business matching and a Pakistani fashion show will feature alongside conferences with global themes at the week-long China International Import Expo, in the latest and most eye-catching effort from Beijing this year to open up its domestic market to foreign investors and companies.

It comes as confidence in doing business in China slips away, as the world’s second-biggest economy continues its spat with its largest trading partner, the United States.

According to the published schedule for the expo next Monday to Friday, China’s Ministry of Commerce will organise a forum on “cooperation between Chinese provinces and US states”, while other ministries, local governments and big enterprises will also conduct conferences.

Britain’s delegation will host a “high-level signing ceremony” as well as business matching, and Pakistan will host a fashion show next Tuesday.

The People’s Bank of China, meanwhile, will hold a forum to promote financing under the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing’s trans-continental infrastructure development strategy.

The expo is also the last stop on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “home turf diplomacy” tour this year that began with the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan in April, went on to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Qingdao in June, and recently landed at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing in September.

At each of these events, Xi gave a keynote speech on the theme of fighting protectionism and unilateralism while sticking to opening up and safeguarding a multilateral trade system.

In Shanghai, Xi will give a speech on Monday morning and meet heads of state and high-level officials, although none of the major Western economies are sending their top officials to the event.

A list of attending leaders published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday included Czech Republic President Milos Zeman and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing said the US had no plans for high-level government participation in the expo. But at least 20 American companies are among the exhibitors, according to the US-China Business Council.

Watch: Dr William Overholt of Harvard predicts global recession within years

Britain is sending Prince Andrew and its International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, along with a delegation of 30 firms including oil giant BP, drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and carmaker Jaguar Land Rover.

Zhang Baohui, professor of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said Beijing was trying to use the event to express some goodwill to other economies so that they will not join forces with the US to contain China.

“China wants to prevent other countries from joining the US in its trade war against China, but it needs to show some gestures or willingness to treat economic relations with other countries fairly,” Zhang said. “That means more imports and reduction of the trade deficit with many countries.

“The main purpose is showing the rest of the world that China is not what the US described as a country that only exports and does not import.”

The state news agency Xinhua said the event would create a “public platform for global trade”, help to develop an open economy and forge a “shared destiny of mankind” – a phrase Xi has used repeatedly to describe his vision of the world’s future.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, more than 3,000 companies will exhibit in Shanghai, China’s financial centre and leading free-trade testing ground.

Yet the event is still much smaller than the China Import and Export Fair – also known as the Canton Fair – the country’s biggest export fair, which is held twice a year in Guangzhou and ends on Sunday. Its present autumn session includes three phases of about a week apiece and features 26,000 exhibitors.

For the first nine months of this year, China’s exports rose 12.2 per cent year-on-year to US$1.82 trillion, and imports grew 20 per cent to US$1.6 trillion, according to China’s customs data.

Over the nine-month period, China ran trade deficits with Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, while its trade surplus with the US stood at US$225 billion.

China has been taking steps to open up its market to foreign merchants, although the Chinese market is known for its cutthroat competition and excessive regulations. It has cut tariffs on consumer goods three times this year, lowering the general tariffs burden on imported goods from an average 9.8 per cent to 7.5 per cent, according to the government.

Beijing has also relaxed foreign ownership restrictions in such sectors as new-energy vehicles and financial services to keep foreign investors in place to help a weakening economy.