China's Li Keqiang Highlights Commitment to Free Trade, Climate Change

29 June 2017

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for continued support in favour of free trade and globalisation, amid the ongoing international debate over how to address concerns of fairness, inclusion, and sustainability.

Speaking in Dalian, China, at an annual World Economic Forum event, the Chinese official also made the case for supporting continued climate action, while describing Beijing’s continued efforts towards advancing its economic growth goals.

The speech comes just as leaders from the G20 economies are preparing to descend upon the German city of Hamburg, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to make trade and open markets a centrepiece of her agenda as this year’s host.

Merkel has publicly affirmed that achieving as “broad an agreement on this as possible” will be her goal, while noting that bringing the US on board will be a challenge, given the current leadership’s approach to these issues. (See Bridges Weekly, 22 June 2017)

Value of globalisation

The Chinese premier repeatedly highlighted the value of economic globalisation and the benefits that could be drawn from the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the term used by some to describe the current era of massive technological innovation, particularly in the digital sphere.

“The world is making continued progress against the backdrop of globalisation,” he told the Dalian audience in giving the event’s keynote address. He called the developmental opportunities that have emerged in this context unprecedented – while warning of the geopolitical and structural challenges that remain.

“But I believe… as long as we stand committed, we will be able to respond and prevail” to such pressures, he said. Ensuring greater stability would require innovation and reform, he added.

Various analysts have already compared the speech to a similar address given by Chinese President Xi Jinping this January at the World Economic Forum’s meetings in Davos, Switzerland, which also featured a defence of globalisation and climate action. Li himself referred to Xi’s speech in his remarks. (See Bridges Weekly, 19 January 2017)

Li also suggested that economic globalisation has not only helped smaller businesses become players in a competitive international marketplace, but it has also helped countries such as China make significant strides, including in “opening up.”

He also warned against attributing all the problems that have faced countries across the economic spectrum in recent years solely to globalisation – while referring repeatedly to the value of free trade in this context.

“But just like when we sprain our ankle when walking on the road, we should not blame the uneven road and just stop walking,” he said.

“Free trade as the foundation for economic globalisation is the precondition for fair trade. Restricting free trade will lead to unequal trade,” he said, in a nod to the free/fair trade debate that has dominated international policy circles over the past several months.

Domestic policies, international climate action

He instead called for doing more to “steer and adapt to economic globalisation, promote trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation, and at the same time reform and strengthen international trade rules to ensure equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal rules for all countries.”

Among his other recommendations were taking domestic policy actions to address income gaps and poverty at home, including through education, in recommendations similar to those issued by international agencies over the past year. (See Bridges Weekly, 6 April 2017)

The speech also touched upon China’s own efforts at advancing domestic growth and opening markets; its work at promoting fair competition; its role as a major trader; its continued work to address industrial overcapacity, including in steel; and its efforts to advance international infrastructure and connectivity projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative, along with the business opportunities this could yield. (See Bridges Weekly, 18 May 2017)

The Chinese leader also affirmed his country’s continued commitment to tackling the climate challenge, referring to it as a “common responsibility of the international community,” while noting the Asian economy’s situation as a developing country and the challenges associated therein.

While US President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change in early June, officials from around the world, including China, have affirmed that their commitment to the landmark UN accord will not waver. (See Bridges Weekly, 8 June 2017)

ICTSD reporting; “Li Says China to Meet Growth Goals, Vows Free Trade Support,” BLOOMBERG, 27 June 2017; “China’s Premier, Li Keqiang, Praises Free Trade, in Contrast to Trump,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, 27 June 2017; “Countries must safeguard economic globalisation for inclusive growth: Premier Li,” XINHUA, 27 June 2017; “Chinese PM Li defends free trade, promises more reforms,” DEUTSCHE WELLE, 27 June 2017.



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