Beijing — President Xi Jinping vowed on Wednesday to further open China’s economy to the world, but foreign companies and investors who have complained of “promise fatigue” called for action rather than words.
Xi made his pledge in a speech to open the week-long Communist Party congress, which will hand him a new five-year term as general secretary.
“Openness brings progress for ourselves, seclusion leaves one behind. China will not close its doors to the world, we will only become more and more open,” Xi told about 2,300 party delegates in Beijing.
Xi vowed to “protect the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors” and said “all businesses registered in China will be treated equally”.
The Chinese leader has tried to cast himself as a champion of globalisation as the US retreats behind President Donald Trump’s America First policy. But US and European firms still complain about being barred from certain sectors and forced to share their technology with local competitors to gain access in some industries. “European companies operating in China continue to suffer from ‘promise fatigue’,” the EU Chamber of Commerce in China said in a statement.
“The only cure for this is promise implementation.”
Trump, who will visit Beijing in November, has launched a trade investigation into China’s intellectual property practices.
An expansive $300bn plan called Made in China 2025 aims to reshape China’s economy but has drawn scrutiny from foreign business groups for its push to foster home-grown companies in key industries.
“Xi’s were welcome words and noble sentiments,” said Peter Fuhrman, chairman of boutique investment bank China First Capital. “We hope the more obstructive, less visionary government officials across China will take Mr Xi’s words as a command, not as one option among several.”
Throughout the world, Chinese conglomerates have been on a buying spree, snapping up companies in the entertainment, industrial and robotics industries.
But analysts and diplomats say those same opportunities are not afforded to foreign companies operating in China.
With the Trump administration in particular, China has been under scrutiny for its ballooning trade surplus with the US, which reached a three-year high in September.
Xi said China would “give equal emphasis” to attracting capital and expanding abroad.
It remains to be seen if such words will mollify the Trump administration. As a presidential candidate, Trump repeatedly threatened to label China a currency manipulator over what he deemed were unfair policies keeping down the value of the renminbi. So far, Trump has backed away from those promises as he sought China’s help with North Korea.
The Chinese leader also said that China would improve regulation around monetary and macro-prudential policy and “see that interest rates and exchange rates become more market based”.
China’s debt mountain is a growing concern for policy makers and regulators around the world, who worry the rapid accumulation of credit could trigger a financial crisis.