Xi Jinping speaks at China International Import Expo (CIIE) amid trade war

Xi Jinping speaks at China International Import Expo (CIIE) amid trade war

China’s President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2018 in Boao, south China’s Hainan province on April 10, 2018.

AFP | Getty Images

SHANGHAI — Chinese President Xi Jinping said Tuesday that global frictions should be resolved through discussions, and encouraged cooperation rather than separation.

Xi spoke at the China International Import Expo, which was first launched last November in a bid to promote the country as a buyer of the world’s goods.

However, the European Chamber of Commerce in China this week expressed skepticism about last year’s expo, and only a minority of members from the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said they were planning to participate in this year’s CIIE.

Xi’s remarks at the opening ceremony of the expo on Tuesday did not specifically mention the U.S., with which China is engaged in a trade dispute. But the Chinese leader highlighted efforts to reach free trade agreements with the EU, Japan, South Korea and other international bodies.

“Distances between countries are getting shorter, and interactions among countries are growing, hence the possibility of differences and frictions,” Xi said, according to an official translation of his Mandarin-language remarks.

“The right solution lies in consultation and cooperation. All problems would be settled in the spirit of equality, mutual understanding and accommodation,” he said.

US-China trade war

Portraying China as an importer is in contrast to the longstanding perception of the country primarily being a manufacturer. It also helps China in ongoing trade talks with the U.S.

One of the sticking points of the dispute is the U.S. trade deficit with China. Beijing has said it will increase purchases of American farm products as both sides seek some temporary resolution in the tensions.

The world’s second-largest economy is also trying to rely more on domestic consumption amid a slowdown in its growth rate. Imports in U.S. dollar terms fell 8.5% in September, more than expected. Exports also dropped a disappointing 3.2%.

John Deere, General Motors, Tesla, Ford, Honeywell International, GE and Thermo Fisher Scientific are among the companies attending this year’s import expo, according to a list on the event website.

American companies will have the largest exhibition space of any country at this year’s expo, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce. The ministry said that 192 U.S. companies will attend, up from 174 last year.

Business skepticism

The Shanghai Chapter of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China surveyed 34 individuals from different sectors who participated in last year’s CIIE. Half of those surveyed closed deals in 2018 — but 47% of them were never executed, according to the survey.

“This lack of follow-through suggests pressure to create a positive public image of this event by promoting hasty signatures, rather than creating a sound environment for European companies to expand in China in the long-term,” the survey report said.

That said, the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said in its 2019 China business report that more than two-thirds of its members did not think participating in the expo was very important. A possible reason for the lack of interest was many members manufacture in China, the chamber said, noting only a quarter of its members intend to participate this year.

Xi’s remarks on Tuesday pushed back against the idea that China was slow to follow through on its commitments. The Chinese leader noted that of 98 initiatives discussed with global leaders at last year’s expo, 23 have been completed, 47 are making progress and 28 are on track for implementation.

He also emphasized China’s efforts to improve the business environment for foreign companies in the country. While Xi did not use the expo as a platform to announce new initiatives, as was the case last year, he specifically mentioned the foreign investment law, set to take effect Jan. 1.

“We need to join hands with each other instead of letting go of each other’s hands,“ Xi said.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the U.S. has a trade deficit with China.

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