Premier urges free trade
Li makes pro-business pledges in Tianjin
Published: Sep 19, 2018 11:28 PM Updated: Sep 20, 2018 09:06 AM

The basic principle of multilateralism and free trade ought to be upheld, as unilateral actions of any kind will not solve problems, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Wednesday, reassuring investors of the Chinese government's globalized approach to trade and investment.

In his speech at the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Annual Meeting of New Champions in North China's Tianjin, the premier pledged an array of pro-business efforts, including greater market access to foreign investors and further tax and fee cuts, drawing bursts of applause from an audience heartened by hopes for China's continued growth despite escalating China-US trade tensions.

The premier's remarks came after the US announced on Tuesday it will impose 10 percent tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. China responded the same day by announcing tariffs of 5 and 10 percent on $60 billion worth of US products.

The world is now standing at a crossroads, facing a choice between globalization and de-globalization, Li stated, noting, however, that the trend of globalization is  continuing to forge ahead at its own pace.

He went on to say China's reform and opening-up over the past four decades is in keeping with the globalized trend and the country will open even wider at a faster pace.

Exemplifying the nation's unchanged and opening policy path, the premier said China's average tariff levels will be lowered further and unwarranted charges in import processes will be sorted out and cleared. His words struck a chord with the wider community.

"China's adherence to further opening-up and maintaining a multilateral system is the best retaliation to trade protectionism," Zhou Xizhou, a managing director at London-headquartered research firm IHS Markit, told the Global Times on the sidelines of the plenary on Wednesday.

China's approach to free trade makes the country an attractive market, which especially amid its trade tensions with the US, said Marc Low, co-founder and CEO of the Canada-based Capaciti, a matching platform for tech companies.

In addition to persistence on globalized trade, the Chinese premier vowed wide-ranging efforts to drive growth for the economy. Among them are greater market access for foreign investors, who will be put on an equal footing, a continued push for streamlined administration, further cuts in taxes and fees to reduce the burden on companies, and resolute efforts to clear obstacles for privately owned businesses.

The premier also promised to strengthen protection of intellectual property rights and to improve business-to-government communication, which will see complaints filed by companies dealt with in a more effective way.

RMB remains stable

In his speech, Li also highlighted that China will maintain its stance of avoiding a flood of stimulus and that the country will never devalue the yuan to boost exports, adding that China is capable of keeping the yuan at an adaptive  equilibrium.

"These pledges have addressed key issues in relation to the economy, bolstering investor confidence in China's economic outlook," Sun Pishu, CEO of Inspur Group, a major Chinese server maker, said  at the forum on Wednesday.

Official data showed that the Chinese economy expanded by 6.7 percent year-on-year in the second quarter of the year, staying within the medium-high-growth range of 6.7 to 6.9 percent for the 12th consecutive quarter.

The pro-business pledges had sent very positive signals and foreign firms hope to play a bigger role along with China's further economic transformation and development, according to IHS Markit's Zhou.

In a sign of China's continued attractiveness to foreign investment, the latest figures from the Ministry of Commerce showed that foreign direct investment into the country increased by 2.3 percent to 560.43 billion yuan ($81.82 billion) in the first eight months of 2018 from the year before.

Speaking highly of China's intellectual property rights drive, Low at Capaciti also believes improved communication between businesses and governments at varying levels would be useful and provide an efficient method to complain to the government when foreign companies have issues in China.

"My businesses mainly center around Europe and North America currently, but I'm now consulting with several Chinese companies to start new tech businesses here under the Chinese government's great push and preferential policy in the tech industry," Low said.

Zhang Hongpei and Shen Weiduo contributed to this story