President Xi slams protectionism, promises to open Chinese markets

President Xi slams protectionism, promises to open Chinese markets


Indira Zahra-Aridati, Business and Policy Intern

Chinese President Xi Jinping promoted China as an advocate for globalisation and free trade, and attacked protectionist measures during his keynote speech at the launch of the inaugural China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai on Monday (5 November).

According to the Financial Times, Xi promised to enhance market access, reduce tariffs, relax investment barriers, and promote international cooperation in a speech aimed at portraying the President as a free-trade advocate and multilateralist.

Xi touted the CIIE as a “trail-blazing” move that underscored China’s commitment to opening up its economy, the China Daily reports, and as a way to attract foreign investors. Xi also criticised countries taking a “law of the jungle” approach to trade, and instead called for inclusive growth and reciprocity.

The comments were widely seen as an attack on the protectionist policies of US President Donald Trump, and reflected Beijing’s unwillingness to back down in the trade war, Bloomberg reports. Despite initial hopes that a breakthrough in trade might occur in next month’s scheduled meeting between Xi and Trump at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Xi’s statements  blunted the prospect of a negotiated end to the trade dispute, according to Fortune.

The CIIE has attracted government officials, corporate executives, and more than 3,600 companies and traders from 172 countries, all of whom want to enter China’s massive consumer market. However, the South China Morning Post reports that there were no state leaders or government heads from the G7 in attendance. The US, which has taken a hard-line approach to alleged infringement of intellectual-property rights and concerns about market access, snubbed the CIIE and sent no senior representation.

The European Union, which shares similar concerns, has called for China to take concrete measures to further open its market beyond vague promises, and provide a level playing field for foreign firms, Reuters reports.

The UK, meanwhile, has struck a more receptive tone, with China Daily quoting International Trade Secretary Liam Fox as saying, “CIIE offers British firms a unique platform to connect with Chinese businesses, investors and consumers.”

China’s role in global trade and the ongoing trade dispute with the US will be one of the talking points at Asia House’s major trade conference in Singapore on 22 November.