China's Xi Jinping defends its development path and slams protectionist actions

Chinese President Xi Jinping called protectionist actions short-sighted and doomed to failure. PHOTO: AFP

PORT MORESBY - Chinese President Xi Jinping dismissed criticism of its trade practices or that its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) represented debt-trap diplomacy, as he laid out proof of China's continuing reforms to its business environment and its pledge to work with the rest of the world on Saturday (Nov 17).

Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on a cruise ship off Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, he called protectionist actions short-sighted and doomed to failure. Mr Xi also sought to portray China as a defender of multilateralism and global governance rules, and the right of each country to find its own development path.

Mr Xi said the BRI - a globe-spanning, trillion-dollar initiative focused on infrastructure building - is premised on partnership and cooperation, and has no geopolitical agenda nor will it exclude anyone, a veiled reference to the US' alliance system and Indo-Pacific strategy, which China sees as a containment policy.

The BRI "is not aimed at anyone, nor is it a closed system that creates a small in-group," he said. "It is not the so-called 'trap' that some people have described it to be, but a shining road where China shares opportunities and seeks common development with the world."

Mr Xi, who spoke right before US Vice-President Mike Pence, also took shots at protectionism and unilateralism, and sought to take the high ground in China's ongoing trade war with the US.

"Attempts to erect barriers and cut close economic ties work against the laws of economics and the trends of history. This is a short-sighted approach and it is doomed to failure," he said.

Mr Xi added that, while the global system governing trade is imperfect and has to keep up with the times, changes to it have to be made through joint consultation, rather than the say-so of any one country.

"The rules should be jointly formulated by the international community, and not by who is more muscular or has the stronger voice," he said. "And worse, if a country engages in realpolitik, double standards, or takes a transactional approach."

Mr Xi also defended the World Trade Organisation's special and differential treatment of developing countries as an important principle, and that to deny this would "shake the very foundation of the multilateral trading system".

Preempting criticism of its trade practices, Mr Xi also listed economic liberalisation measures China has implemented this year, such as its reduction of tariffs on over 3,000 consumer and industrial products, which exceeds its World Trade Organisation commitments.

Beijing has also cut taxes and actively expanded its imports while significantly relaxing access to its markets and opened up foreign investment in previously restricted sectors such as finance, automobiles and aircraft, he added.

"China treats domestic and foreign-funded enterprises equally, welcomes and encourages fair competition among all types of enterprises, and will fully protect their legitimate rights and interests," he said.

Mr Xi also called on countries to engage each other based on tolerance and mutual understanding, instead of trying to impose one's views on others. Only the people of each country have the final say over which road to take, he said.

"We should be less arrogant and prejudiced, more respectful and tolerant, and embrace the richness and diversity of the world," he said.

"We should strive to seek common ground while reserving differences, learn from each other's strengths, seek harmony and coexistence, and achieve win-win cooperation."

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