Chinese Premier Li to address major forum, as global CEOs head to China in show of commitment
Premier Li to address China Development Forum
Published: Mar 22, 2024 10:26 PM Updated: Mar 22, 2024 11:50 PM
Beijing skyline (Photo: IC)

Beijing skyline (Photo: IC)

Chinese Premier Li Qiang will deliver a keynote speech at the China Development Forum’s annual meeting, which is scheduled to take place from Sunday to Monday and is expected to draw more than 110 foreign guests, including leaders of the World Bank and the IMF, corporate executives and scholars, the Forum announced on Friday. 

Senior Chinese officials have already commenced a whirlwind of meetings with global business executives as China is slated to host a couple of back-to-back high-level forums that will draw scores of business leaders from around the world, putting on a vivid display of China’s continued opening-up as well as multinationals’ commitment to the Chinese market. 

While Western officials and media outlets have recently stepped up their campaign to smear China’s economy and its business environment, visits by a stream of prominent global business leaders to China, including those from Europe and the US, underscore solid global confidence in China’s investment prospects, analysts said. With its intensifying opening-up efforts and steady economic recovery, China will remain one of the most important destinations for global investors for 2024 and beyond, they noted. 

Great enthusiasm

Hosted by the Development Research Center of the State Council since 2000, the China Development Forum (CDF) has become an important platform to serve external economic exchanges and promote cooperation between Chinese and foreign enterprises. The great enthusiasm among foreign guests for this year’s meeting showed “great focus on China’s economic development and eagerness for joint development with China,” the CDF said. 

While a complete list of guests has not been released, many prominent corporate leaders are expected to attend the Forum. Expected attendees include Apple CEO Tim Cook, Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone, Ken Griffin of hedge fund Citadel and HSBC’s Noel Quinn, according to the Wall Street Journal. Cook has been in China since early this week, drawing widespread attention in China and around the world, as he talked about China’s critical role for Apple and opened a new flagship store in Shanghai on Thursday. 

A growing number of business executives have also arrived in China in recent days, and scores more are expected to descend on the country in the coming days, where they will participate in high-level meetings. Apart from the CDF, the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2024 will kick off in Boao, South China’s Hainan Province on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, China will host an “Invest China” event. All of these events are expected to draw many global business leaders, and meetings have already taken place between Chinese officials and global CEOs. 

On Friday, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao met with Visa Inc CEO Ryan McInerney and Broadcom President and CEO Hock E. Tan. A day earlier, Wang met also separately with several global business executives, including Mercedes-Benz chairman Ola Kallenius, HP Inc President and CEO Enrique Lores and Eli Lilly Chairman and CEO David Ricks, the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) said on Friday.

During the meeting with Kallenius, Wang said China firmly promotes high-quality development and high-level opening-up, is committed to optimizing the business environment, and provides good services to foreign-invested enterprises. China welcomes Mercedes-Benz to seize the opportunities in China’s digital and green transformation, make good use of the trade-in policies and other consumption incentives, jointly oppose protectionism, and push the EU to keep its market open to Chinese auto products for mutual benefits. 

For his part, Kallenius said that Mercedes-Benz remains committed to the strategy of developing electric vehicles and expanding investment in China. Noting protectionism is a wrong path, Kallenius said that Mercedes-Benz is willing to strengthen cooperation with China’s auto industry and play an active role in reducing trade barriers and maintaining a level playing field, according to the MOFCOM.

In separate meetings with Lores and Ricks, Wang reaffirmed China’s commitment to opening-up, while the US business executives expressed confidence in the Chinese market. Ricks said that HP is confident in China's economic development prospects and is willing to continue investing in China to provide better and innovative products and services, the MOFCOM said on Friday.

Also on Friday, Liu Jianchao, head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, met with Craig Allen, president of the US-China Business Council (USCBC). Liu said that China looks forward to working with the USCBC to help people of all walks of life in the US to form an objective and rational understanding of China, enhance mutual understanding and trust, and promote practical cooperation in various fields. 

Show of confidence

“The fact that foreign business leaders are rushing to visit China shows that they are firmly committed to the Chinese market, which multinational companies cannot afford to ignore amid new emerging technologies and industries that require a vast market,” Liu Ying, a research fellow from the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Friday.

Liu further noted that China’s super-large market, which is also very open to new technologies and products, is critical for multinationals that are engaged in emerging industries. “Without support from the market, it would be unsustainable for companies to undertake innovation in a rapidly shifting environment,” Liu said, pointing to China’s vast internet base.  

Underscoring China’s vast market, industry data showed on Friday that the number of internet users in China reached 1.092 billion as of December 2023, about 78 percent of the country’s total population. That means China added 24.8 million new internet users between December 2022 and 2023, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

“Foreign businesses once entered China because of its potential as a production base, but as China’s economic develops, they are increasingly recognizing the vast market value and they now view China as a critical consumer market,” Tian Yun, a Beijing-based economist, told the Global Times on Friday. 

Also equally important is China’s commitment and steadfast efforts to expand market access and improve the business environment for global businesses, which will directly create many opportunities for multinationals to invest in China, analysts noted. 

“Deepening reforms and promoting high-level institutional opening-up are key priorities for China, as shown in many major policy documents. And these reform and opening-up measures are essentially aimed at optimizing the business environment, which is great of importance for businesses,” Liu Ying said. “By coming to forums such as the CDF and the BFA, global businesses can learn about China’s reform and opening-up plans so they can formulate sound business strategies.” 

In an intensifying campaign to promote high-level opening-up, China has rolled out a series of concrete steps in recent days. On Friday, the MOFCOM released the first national version of the negative list for cross-border trade in services, which included opening-up measures in areas such as professional services, financial, cultural and other services sectors. The move came just days after the State Council issued a sweeping 24-point action plan for promoting high-level opening-up and attracting foreign investments. 

China’s steadfast opening-up measures and the stream of global CEOs coming to China also offer a firm rebuttal to the claims hyped by Western officials and media outlets about China’s economy and business environment, analysts said. 

“Hyping claims such as ‘peak China’ is just part of the US’ war of perception against China, which seeks to depict China’s economy as collapsing to scare foreign investors away,” Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday. However, the visits by global CEOs show that foreign businesses remain upbeat about China’s economy, not just because of favorable policies, but also its long-term prospects, Gao said.