China has formally cancelled a high-profile annual conference that brings together Chinese and foreign politicians and business leaders to discuss policies and promote the country’s international image, as a result of the continued global spread of the coronavirus pandemic . The annual conference of the Boao Forum for Asia , originally scheduled from March 24-27 on China’s southernmost island province of Hainan, was called off, after its initial postponement, its organiser said on Thursday morning. “The raging Covid-19 pandemic across the world is threatening human health and global economy. In response to international efforts to contain the disease, and prioritising the health and safety of all participants, the forum’s board of directors made the difficult decision to not hold this year’s annual conference,” an online statement read. Dubbed China’s Davos – after the Swiss Alps resort where the World Economic Forum meets each January – the conference has hosted high ranking officials from China and other countries as well as eminent global business leaders worldwide since its inauguration in 2001. Has China’s answer to the annual power-gathering in Davos lost its shine? It has traditionally been held a week after the annual meeting of China’s National People’s Congress session in early March, providing a chance for foreigners to gain a better understanding of Beijing’s just-announced economic policies. Chinese leaders have also used the event to announce important decisions. For instance, President Xi Jinping announced at the forum in 2018 key measures to open up China’s financial markets, including allowing foreign firms to take control of securities joint ventures for the first time, in the midst of the trade war with the US. In his keynote speech at last year’s conference, Premier Li Keqiang promised wider market entry and a level playfield for foreign companies. This year’s event was themed “a world in change: bond together for a shared future” and organisers estimated more than 2,000 people would have attended, many of them from overseas. The conference is the latest event to be cancelled because of the pandemic. The Canton Fair, China’s oldest and largest export fair sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce, was delayed until the second half of June and will now be held online. The pandemic is continuing its rapid spread. The number of Covid-19 patients worldwide has now surpassed 3 million and killed more than 220,000. China, where the first cases were reported, has now largely contained the virus and most lockdown measures have been lifted. There are still scattered clusters of infections in the country, with many gatherings remaining under tight control to prevent a new outbreak. In a sign of the government’s confidence that the pandemic is largely under control in China, Beijing announced on Tuesday that this year’s delayed session of the National People’s Congress will begin on May 22. The government is expected to announce this year’s targets for GDP growth, the central government’s budget deficit, and employment growth during the event. It remains unclear how many of the 2,900-strong delegates will travel to Beijing, with many of the proceedings taking place online. China signals coronavirus under control with resumption of parliament Despite the cancellation of this year’s conference, the Boao Forum said it would organise a series of online activities to discuss the impact of the pandemic and explore solutions for recovery. Also, its preparation for other events scheduled for the second half of this year have not yet been affected, including the first conference of the Global Economic Development and Security Forum in Zhuhai in September. The Third China Import Expo, another key event scheduled to be held in Shanghai in November, has not been affected by virus concerns so far. More than 1,100 firms have already registered and 70 per cent of the floor space has been occupied, the state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday, citing the organiser.