Boao Forum for Asia

Is Xi Jinping set to announce plans to transform ‘China’s Hawaii’ into the new Hong Kong?

Establishment of free-trade ports expected to be one of the highlights of president’s keynote speech at Boao Forum, Asia’s Davos

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 9:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 11:26pm

China’s plan to create free-trade ports as part of its ongoing reform and opening up could be one of the major announcements made by President Xi Jinping at this year’s Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), which gets under way on Sunday, sources said.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday that Xi’s keynote speech would be “the most authoritative interpretation” of the new measures planned to mark the 40th anniversary of China’s move towards economic liberalisation.

The new ports, plans for which were proposed by Xi in October, would enjoy much greater freedom in terms of policymaking than existing free-trade zones and be more open in terms of market access, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

They would apply international standards to ensure the free flow of goods, human resources, capital and investment, and be supported by new rules and regulations, the person said, on condition of anonymity.

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The southern province of Hainan, sometimes dubbed China’s Hawaii and which hosts the annual forum, could be among the locations chosen for the new ports, the person said.

“The openness [at the new ports] will be much higher than at the Shanghai Free Trade Zone … and even higher than in Hong Kong,” a second source said.

It was possible the Hainan government might put a freeze on property sales in the province if such an announcement was made, the person said.

Local authorities on Saturday announced further tightening measures on home purchases in a bid to curb soaring prices in the island province.

With China and the United States on the brink of an all-out trade war, Wang’s comments suggest Xi might use this year’s BFA, or Asia’s Davos as it is often called, as a platform to showcase the country’s commitment to opening up and increasing access to its markets.

“People will hear a series of important new measures on reforms and opening up,” he said.

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Wei Jianguo, a former Chinese vice-minister of commerce, said Xi would announce a number of “high-level” measures designed to help Beijing battle US trade protectionism and achieve its domestic economic development ambitions.

“China will open up its financial services, insurance, intermediaries, health care and other sectors,” he said.

It would also create a business environment that offered “equal treatment in terms of rules, opportunities and rights for private, state and foreign companies”, he said.

Since 2013, China has established 11 free-trade zones across the country, with Shanghai being used as a testing ground for the free flow of cross-border capital and investments.

This year’s Boao Forum, which runs from April 8-11, will mark Xi’s fourth appearance at the event, having previously attended in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

Over the course of the four days he is expected to meet several state leaders, including the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and the Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres, Wang said.

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As well as providing a platform for talks on economics, cooperation, society and the environment, the BFA will be “open for discussion” on issues regarding regional security and stability, such as South China Sea disputes, he said.

The BFA was established in 2002, a year after China joined the World Trade Organisation, with the vision to create an Asian equivalent of the World Economic Forum, an annual event held in Davos, Switzerland.

After experiencing some teething problems regarding the infrastructure needed to host such a prestigious event, Hainan has attracted massive investment over the past 15 years, which has funded the development of a host of world-class convention facilities, as well as a new airport, motorways and a high-speed rail line.