BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for an increase in imports and fewer restrictions for foreign investors as Beijing comes under pressure from the United States and Europe to provide a more level playing field for companies in the country.
American President Donald Trump has railed against China's massive trade surplus while the European Union and US companies have complained about a lack of access to the huge market.
Speaking to a Communist Party committee on financial and economic affairs, Mr Xi called for "expanding imports while stabilising exports", state-run media reported on July 18.
China's leaders are trying to transform the economy from a reliance on exports and state investment to one driven by domestic demand, though that has led to a slowdown in growth to 26-year lows.
Mr Xi also said "an open economy" with fewer restrictions to foreign access will serve to "promote balance of payment under the current account", according to the China Daily.
The large US trade deficit with China was a major talking point for Mr Trump during last year's presidential campaign, when he claimed Beijing had "stolen" millions of jobs from Americans.
He also accused China of manipulating its currency to support its exports - a charge he has dropped since taking office in January.
In his statement on Monday, Mr Xi called for measures to liberalise trade and simplify import procedures while reducing tariffs on certain consumer products.
He stressed keeping the yuan currency's value "basically stable at a reasonable and balanced level", and steadily pushing it "to become an international currency", Xinhua state news agency reported.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, at the start of the year, Mr Xi stood out as a defender of free trade and globalisation in the face of Mr Trump's protectionist rhetoric.
But foreign firms in China have long pointed out the obstacles to doing business in the country, where they say domestic companies enjoy distinct advantages.
"A market environment featuring fair play should be created in the country," Mr Xi said in his statement, noting that "national treatment in laws and policies should be granted to foreign-funded companies after they enter the market".