China has conditions to 'energise' market, will continue to open up: Premier Li Keqiang

Premier Li Keqiang is in Singapore on his first official visit as premier and will be attending Asean-related meetings before leaving on Nov 16, 2018.
Premier Li Keqiang is in Singapore on his first official visit as premier and will be attending Asean-related meetings before leaving on Nov 16, 2018.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Despite its slowing economy, China will continue to open up its market while streamlining its business and tax regulations instead of relying on economic stimulus.

At the same time, it will "crack down harshly" on intellectual property infringements, substandard projects and unfair practices to bolster investor confidence.

"We will not resort to massive stimulus. We'll make adjustments as appropriate. We want to energise the market, and we have the conditions to do that," Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday (Nov 13).

"The door will open wider and reforms will continue to deepen," he added.

Mr Li was speaking to an audience of political and business leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong,  at the St Regis hotel. 

In a wide-ranging speech for the 44th Singapore Lecture co-organised by the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute and Business China, Premier Li extolled the virtues of multilateralism and free trade, promised opportunities for all and assuaged fears of China's rapid rise and ambition for global dominance.

China wants to work with countries in the region and other parts of the world to advance free and fair trade which would continue to lift millions out of poverty and provide the world with enduring peace, he said.

 
 
 
 

Mr Li said he expected the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to be launched next year. He was referring to a free trade agreement being negotiated between the 10 member-states of Asean and China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. The negotiations had taken on new urgency given the climate of rising protectionism, he said.

On the South China Sea, Mr Li said he hoped negotiations with Asean on a code of conduct will be sewn up within three years, as Beijing was committed to working with the South-east Asian nations to maintain peace and stability in the contested waters.

"We will not seek hegemony or expansion," he said. "What we hope for is a harmonious relationship with our neighbours and together we benefit from our good neighbourliness."

While he did not touch on Sino-US relations in his lecture, Singapore's former ambassador to the US, Professor Chan Heng Chee, asked about the reasons for the friction between the two powers.

Premier Li did not offer reasons for the current state of affairs, but said relations have gone through ups and down over the years, although they had largely been stable.

"There are no winners when it comes to fighting a trade war," he said, adding that he does not wish to see disruption in the global industrial chain that could affect other countries.

"As long as we respect each other's core interests and concerns, there will be a way to resolve the issue."

Keeping to his free trade theme for the day, Premier Li made a pitch for investments at the end of the lecture, noting that Singapore is China's largest foreign investor. "We are waiting for more of your investments," he said in English, to laughter.

He then reiterated his pledge for fair practices.

"If your investment in China is treated unfairly, talk to our ministers present today or complain directly to me."

Mr Li is in Singapore on his first official visit as premier and will be attending Asean-related meetings on Wednesday and Thursday before leaving Singapore on Friday (Nov 16).