China’s Premier Li tells world it is growing and open for business

By Antoni Slodkowski

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) -Chinese Premier Li Qiang said on Tuesday in Davos the Chinese economy was open for business and highlighted its potential for foreign investment as its vast population becomes rapidly more urban and its middle class is forecast to grow.

As China grapples with a sluggish post-pandemic recovery and a real estate slump, overseas executives have grown concerned about its long-term growth prospects for the first time in the four decades since Beijing opened it up to foreign investment.

Li said in a keynote speech to business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the Chinese economy had rebounded and moved upward, and was estimated to have grown around 5.2% in 2023, above the official target of around 5%.

He said that China’s economy was making steady progress, could handle ups and downs in its performance and would continue to provide global impetus, adding that its overall trend of long-term growth would not change.

Li, who leads a large government delegation at this week’s WEF, is the most senior Chinese official to rub shoulders with global business and political elites at the Swiss ski resort since President Xi Jinping in 2017.

China’s Premier said healthy competition was key to enhancing cooperation and innovation, adding that the world needed to remove barriers to competition and cooperate on environmental strategies and international scientific exchange.

Li also highlighted the importance of keeping global supply chains “stable and smooth”.

In his speech in Davos, Li highlighted a growing North-South divide, which he said was becoming more acute, and stressed the need for cooperation on development.

Li said China, with a rapidly urbanizing population of 1.4 billion people, would play an important role in boosting aggregate global demand. He also said China remained “firmly committed” to opening up its economy and would create “favourable conditions” to share its opportunities.

“Choosing investment in the Chinese market is not a risk, but and opportunity,” Li added.

His past overtures declaring China open for business have been met with scepticism in some boardrooms in light of a broader anti-espionage law, raids on consultancies and due diligence firms and exit bans, trade bodies say.

“We will take active steps to address reasonable concerns of the global business community,” Li said.

Businesses have expressed longstanding worries about geopolitics, tightening regulations and a more favourable playing field for state-owned companies. In the July-September quarter, China recorded the first quarterly deficit in foreign direct investment since records began in 1998.

WEF organisers said more than 2,800 leaders from 120 countries, including more than 60 heads of state, are due to participate at the annual meeting.

Li did not mention conflicts in Ukraine or Gaza during his WEF speech and investors are on the lookout for any bilateral meetings on the sidelines, especially with Middle Eastern leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on Sunday for a larger, more authoritative Israeli-Palestinian peace conference and a timetable to implement a two-state solution as the Gaza conflict escalated and the Red Sea became a new flash point.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said it was important that Russian ally China was present when Kyiv convenes future peace meetings, although no meeting between Li and Zelenskiy was on the official agenda.

(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Alexander Smith)