China Ready to Return to World Stage Says Vice Premier Liu He

  • Vice-Premier Liu He, having spoken at World Economic Forum in Switzerland, attempts to dispel concerns about China’s economic policies and changes in Covid strategy
  • Comments come after China this week announced one of its slowest economic growth figures in the past half-century

China will strive to retain and boost its appeal to foreign investors, as the country is ready to step back onto the world stage and intensify its global cooperation, Vice-Premier Liu He has vowed in Switzerland.

The economic tsar also invited foreign companies to increase their investments in China, after saying in a speech on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum that China will never return to the planned-economy model. Instead, he said, it will keep opening up and supporting the private sector.

In an interview with the Hong Kong-headquartered Phoenix TV after his meeting with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday in Zurich, the outgoing vice-premier said his trip to Switzerland was meant to help dispel concerns about China’s economic policies and changes in its Covid strategy.

His comments also came after Tuesday’s announcement that China recorded one of its slowest economic growth figures in the past half-century, with a full-year growth rate of 3 per cent in 2022.

Liu said his mission at the World Economic Forum was to convey China’s policies on opening up, reform and development following the 20th party congress that took place in October.

And that message to the forum, he said in the interview, “included perspectives on the last year and prospects for the new year – how China will push for reform and opening up, deepen the reform of state-owned enterprises and support the private sector, and how to set up risks controls”.

“The world has closely monitored China’s Covid-policy changes and its solutions to counter climate change. We feel that the world has deepened its understanding on China, and we hear what they are saying: China is coming back.”

Last month, Beijing abruptly ended its restrictive zero-Covid policy after nearly three years, setting off a surge in infections and resulting in a difficult transition to living with the virus. The shift also weighed heavy on fourth-quarter economic growth, which reached 2.9 per cent, year on year.

“Given the current circumstances, we are ready,” Liu said, referring to China’s reopening to reconnect with the rest of the world. “We hope more foreign friends come to China, with more foreign investment in the country, and we will comprehensively improve the business operating environment in China. I’m very positive about this.”

In his keynote speech on Tuesday, Liu said China has been returning to normality faster than expected and is set for a significant economic recovery this year.

Beijing is looking to restore market confidence in its bid for a resilient and sustainable economic recovery. Hardline coronavirus-prevention measures and crackdowns on tech companies and private tutoring in the last couple of years dealt a heavy blow to business confidence in the country while also tarnishing its appeal as a premier investment destination.

His first in-person meeting with Yellen, his US counterpart, in more than two years lasted longer than expected on Wednesday, at nearly three hours, and Liu said it was “a very valuable dialogue for both sides”.

“The US delegation needed to catch a flight, so we had to stop the meeting. We could have talked longer if we had time,” Liu said. “The discussion was very professional, candid and profound. We had a comprehensive discussion on the development of China-US relations, the current situation, and how we can step up cooperation.”

According to the statements issued by the two sides, the two countries agreed to enhance communication to counter economic headwinds and climate change, and they agreed that Yellen would visit China in the near future, and that a reciprocal visit to the US would be arranged.

The Chinese statement said concerns were raised about Washington’s economic, trade and technology policies against China, and that Beijing hopes the US will pay more attention to the policy impacts on both sides.

Liu said in the Phoenix TV interview that they also discussed the issue of tariffs and the listing of Chinese companies in US stock markets.

“We discussed cooperation in climate change, finance, energy, food security and debt relief, while we also expressed our core concerns,” Liu said.

Since presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden met in November in Bali, Indonesia, both Beijing and Washington have been seeking to restore communication and prevent bilateral tensions from becoming further strained.

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