Thomas Daniel was quoted in Nikkei Asia 30 March 2023

New market access measures in store to boost trade and investment, Li Qiang says

by CK TAN, Nikkei staff writer

QIONGHAI, China — China vowed Thursday to ramp up trade and investment with new market access measures as it looks to rev up its post-pandemic economy.

Speaking at an international meeting on the southern island of Hainan, Premier Li Qiang also touted China as an “anchor” for global peace and development amid soaring U.S. tensions, as leaders from Singapore and Malaysia warned that the Sino-U.S. rift was a risk to the world.

“We will roll out new measures on increasing market access, improving the business climate … to create a better environment for private companies to break new ground and foreign firms to make new investments,” Li told government and business leaders at the annual Boao Forum for Asia.

The comments from China’s second-in-command under President Xi Jinping come as Beijing increasingly portrays itself as a global peacemaker that opposes unilateral sanctions, an apparent jab at U.S.-led measures against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“In this uncertain world, the certainty is China’s offer as an anchor for global peace and development,” Li said Thursday.

The world’s No. 2 economy was on a stronger footing last month with a renewed focus on boosting domestic demand, Li said.

But China’s recovery from a 3% economic expansion in 2022 — among the weakest in decades — has been bumpy after years of punishing COVID-19 curbs were abandoned in late 2022. The uneven rebound has been highlighted by a 22.9% dip in industrial profits for the first two months of the year, as China grapples with weak trade.

Beijing has stuck by ally Russia over Ukraine, and Li did not directly reference the conflict on Thursday.

But Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Moscow’s invasion had “profoundly undermined” the rules-based international order.

“Most worrying is the state of relations between the U.S. and China,” Lee added. “Big powers have a heavy responsibility to maintain stable and workable relations with one another because any clash between them will have grievous consequences for themselves and the world.”

Despite the tensions, Singapore is among the countries in the region keen to participate in new growth opportunities presented by China as it revives investment, trade and tourism after the global health crisis, Lee said.

Those include the globe-spanning Belt and Road infrastructure drive and trade pacts such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, to which China currently does not belong.

“These groupings are not mutually exclusive,” Lee said. “They have varying membership and often overlap with one another. Not every country needs to be in every group. But collectively, the different groupings will build a resilient and interlocking network of cooperation among countries in Asia.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim also called for expanding regional cooperation as geopolitical tensions shift to technology with Washington aiming to block China’s access to advanced chips.

“We need to establish certain guardrails so that the competition does not lead to bifurcation in the technological world, one that will raise cost and impede progress,” Anwar said. “Unfettered competition must give way to spirited collaboration.”

The leaders’ calls largely mirror those of other Asian nations as they look to balance their own relations with Beijing and Washington.

“Careful and nuanced hedging is the key,” said Thomas Daniel, a senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Malaysia. “Anwar joins many of his Southeast Asian counterparts to maximize the benefits of engagement with both Beijing and Washington amid the increasing rivalry between the two.”

This article first published in Nikkei Asia, 30 March 2023

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