President Xi Jinping pitched China as a paragon of global free trade on Thursday, promising to keep the world’s second-biggest economy open and warning against the perils of protectionism.
Buoyed by the signing of the world’s largest trade pact over the weekend, Xi told a virtual meeting of some of the Asia Pacific’s top CEOs that China was the “forerunner driving global growth” in a world hit by “multiple challenges” including the pandemic.
He promised “openness” to trade and rejected any possibility of the “decoupling” of the Chinese economy – his only comments hinting at the hostile trade policy of the administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump, which has battered China with tariffs and tech restrictions.
“Our new development pattern is not a closed domestic single circulation, but an open and mutually promoting domestic and international dual circulation,” Xi said.
The “dual circulation” strategy envisages that China’s next phase of development will depend mainly on “domestic circulation” or an internal cycle of production, distribution and consumption, backed by domestic technological innovation.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, held online this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, brings together 21 countries from around the Pacific and accounts for about 60 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).
The formal summit of leaders takes place on Friday.
An unnamed US official told the Reuters news agency Trump will take part in the summit. If confirmed, it will be the first time he has joined the event since 2017, the only time he has participated.
In a speech that veered into triumphalism over China’s economic “resilience and vitality” in its recovery from the virus, which first originated in the central city of Wuhan late last year, Xi warned that “seclusion” would inhibit growth.
“China’s commitment to opening up is strong and China will open its door wider to the world,” he said.
“We will continue to advance the trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation, to conduct negotiations with more countries on high standard free trade agreements and actively engage in bilateral, multilateral and regional mechanism for trade and investment cooperation, so as to build a higher standard and open economy.”
The APEC summit comes a week after China and 14 other Asia Pacific countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s biggest trade deal. The US is not part of the RCEP.
Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with the region which was a key part of predecessor Barack Obama’s so-called “pivot” to Asia, in January 2017.