Chinese vice-president sends signal to Washington via Singapore economic forum
- Beijing wants high-level dialogue with the US, observers said after Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan’s attended the Bloomberg New Economy Forum
- Worsening relations between the two countries dominates discussion at economic event
Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan’s presence at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore was a signal from Beijing that it wants to engage in high-level dialogue with the United States, according to observers.
The list of attending Chinese officials at the New Economy Forum was not decided until a week before the event opened on Tuesday, but originally was headed by a ministerial-level official, according to a source.
The late decision to send Wang was intended to show that China still attached importance to the event, despite the venue moving from the original choice of Beijing to Singapore, the source said.
The decision to move the forum, jointly held with the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, an influential think tank based in Beijing, to Singapore was made in August to avoid a clash with the International Import Expo in Shanghai.
Around 400 senior executives of multinational companies attended the forum to discuss changes in the world economy, especially among emerging markets.
But the event was dominated by worsening China-US relations. Former US officials, including Henry Paulson and Henry Kissinger, warned of the risks facing the global economy if the two nations failed to get along.
Zha Daojiong, a professor of international relations with Peking University, said on the sidelines of the forum that the Chinese government attached importance to the event.
“Otherwise Wang could not come,” he said. “They didn’t let the forum host in Beijing, what else could they do? They already offended them. But Wang came here. He could easily not come”.
Hours after he arrived in Singapore on Monday, Wang dined with the forum’s advisory body which included Gary Cohn, former economic adviser to US President Donald Trump and Janet Yellen, former chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.
In a keynote speech on Tuesday, Wang said China was ready to engage with the US to resolve their trade war – which is seen as sending a positive gesture ahead of the expected meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
Wang Huiyao, director with the Centre of China and Globalisation who also attended the forum, said Chinese voices were not enough and were often not properly conveyed in big events such as the Singapore forum.
“We need channels to communicate with the US and the business sector,” Wang said.
“We are also short of experts who can convey China’s message clearly in a way that is acceptable for a foreign audience.”
Wang, a “firefighter” and Xi’s right-hand man, enjoys a high reputation among Wall Street bankers and, before his current role, had met Michael Bloomberg, Henry Kissinger and Henry Paulson, co-founders of the forum.
His address to the forum coincided with a changing attitude towards China among the US business community which is showing frustration at the lack of market access and other issues, such as intellectual property infringement.
Although disagreeing with Trump’s punitive tariffs, US companies hope the high pressure approach could force China to make changes.
“The big picture for US-China relations is that this is not just another down and up,” said James McGregor, chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China and author of One Billion Customers.
“This is going to be a new paradigm, a structured change in the relationship. This is happening as foreign business loses its faith in China,” he said.
“The business relationship used to be the ballast and a strong source of the stability between the two countries.
“The business relationship between the economies has gone from complementary to direct competition because both countries are focused on capturing the technologies of the future,” McGregor said.
The US last week indicted a Chinese chip maker and its partner in Taiwan for stealing trade secrets and there are concerns the US administration may initiate more sanctions on Chinese technology.
But it also issued a waiver to China to import oil from Iran, and a diplomatic and security dialogue between the two nations will be held on Friday.
“The two countries have to restructure their relationship,” McGregor said.
“The political DNA between the two systems is different, and now both sides are playing to the most extreme part of their political DNA and it is leading to deep disruption and serious division.
“Both countries need to step back and figure out how to fix themselves and then figure out how they can have a peaceful coexistence for the good of the world,” McGregor said.
Additional reporting by Sarah Zheng