Beijing is ramping up publicity for its third annual China International Import Expo (CIIE), as the country seeks to promote itself as a defender of free trade and linchpin for global economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite growing tensions with major trading partners and ongoing economic uncertainty triggered by the pandemic, China is pushing ahead with the physical event in Shanghai from November 5-10.
The expo, which began in 2018 as China was locked in a trade war with the United States, is one of China's biggest public relations events to woo the global business community, promising them access to a market of 1.4 billion consumers.
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President Xi Jinping had delivered keynote speeches two years running, in which he has tried to convince the world China is open for business despite rising tensions with US-led liberal democracies.
It may even become a turning point in the global economic recovery
State media on Monday began a 100-day countdown, saying the import expo was an opportunity for the world to shake off the virus and showed Beijing’s commitment to opposing protectionism.
Wei Jianguo, a former vice-minister of commerce, said the event could help to boost global economic confidence and restore growth.
“It may even become a turning point in the global economic recovery,” he said, adding it could also be a platform to propose Chinese solutions to global governance after the pandemic was over.
But the event faces a number of challenges, including headwinds from China-US decoupling, trade disputes with countries like Australia and ongoing disruptions to travel caused by the pandemic.
Numerous international trade fairs this year have been delayed, cancelled or moved online, including the Canton Fair, but the import expo will be in-person.
By late June, 2,076 foreign companies had confirmed attendance at the third CIIE, down from more than 3,000 at the same time last year, according to a list on the expo’s official website.
Some 159 firms from the US, including Ford, General Motors, Qualcomm and 3M will be at the event, although that was also lower than the 192 last year.
However, event organisers said at a press briefing last week that all exhibition space had been booked up, even with a 20 per cent increase in floor space over the previous event.
Although 61 nations took part in last year’s event, no list has been released for 2020 and a guest of honour has not yet been announced.
Britain and India were chosen as the guests of honour at the first and second import expo respectively, viewed then as important trading partners while China was locked in a tariff battle with the US. However, the geopolitical environment has changed drastically since, with Beijing now on bad footing with both nations.
Ties with London have soured dramatically over Hong Kong and Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, while a deadly border clash between Indian and Chinese troops in June has seen relations between the two neighbours plunge to their worst point in decades and stoked calls from New Delhi for trade and investment boycotts.
China is also in the middle of a diplomatic dispute with Australia over Canberra’s support for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Beijing has slapped a high anti-dumping tariff on Australian barley and banned beef exports from four abattoirs over mislabelling of customs documents.
Against this backdrop, senior government officials have stepped up efforts to recruit other nations to the expo. Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged Latin American countries to have a greater presence at the event during a video conference on July 23.
Former vice-minister Wei said he expected more countries and businesses to attend this year’s event, especially from the European Union, and Xi would likely use it to show China’s commitment to opening up its huge domestic market.
It would also be a chance to bolster Xi’s plan to restructure the economy from an export-led growth model to one led by consumption, he said.
“That doesn’t mean returning to self-reliance or closing the country to the outside world, but aims to build an open, stable and safe production and supply chain,” Wei said.
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This article China import expo to go ahead despite trade tensions, lingering coronavirus uncertainty first appeared on South China Morning Post