When ‘opening up’ in China really means ‘shutting out’ democratic values

President Xi Jinping’s Shanghai address fails to paper over the cracks of Beijing’s predatory trade practices

President Xi Jinping sounds at times like a stuck record, the vinyl kind.

In yet another speech about “opening up,” he pledged that China will increase imports by more than US$22 trillion in the next decade.

The general secretary of the ruling Communist Party also called for greater globalization after reiterating the mantra that “unilateralism and protectionism” should not undermine the international order.

“We should take a constructive stance to reform the global economic governance system and promote an open world economy,” he said in a keynote speech via video at the annual China International Import Expo in Shanghai earlier this month.

“With a population of 1.4 billion and a middle-income group exceeding 400 million, China is the world’s largest market with the greatest potential. China is expected to import an accumulated over $22 trillion worth of goods in the next 10 years,” he added.

Economic growth

Xi’s pledge is well within the country’s range even though imports fell 2.8% to $2.08 trillion last year as economic growth slowed to a three-decade low.

To put that into perspective, imports in 2018 surged by 15.8% to $2.14 trillion.

Still, the numbers are only the backdrop to a broader political picture amid US-China trade tensions and geopolitical concerns. Those anxieties are shared by the European Union and Washington allies in the Asia-Pacific.

Australia, in particular, has seen its imports hit after daring to garner global support to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in China.

The first official case surfaced in the city of Wuhan back in December. Since then, SARS-CoV-2 has infected nearly 51 million people globally and killed at least 1.26 million, according to Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

“Continued uncertain and inconsistent messages from China are heightening risks and undermine the statements made by President Xi at this year’s China International Import Expo,” Simon Birmingham, the Australian trade minister, said as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.

“If China is to be true to the statements of its government then it should provide confidence that normal customs and related processes will apply to imports of goods such as seafood and wine,” he added.

Both appear to have been blocked amid Beijing’s fury of Canberra’s Covid-19 stand.

China risks

The situation has been further inflamed by China’s state-owned media. Global Times reported on November 4 that Australia was “nervous about losing” access to the Chinese market after “seven categories of goods” were halted, such as barley, beef, cotton and coal.

“Analysts [have] warned that Chinese consumers’ confidence in Australian products would significantly drop if Australia continues to sabotage bilateral relations. [This] would cost Australia its best and biggest market, jobs and an opportunity to quickly recover from the pandemic,” the nationalistic tabloid run by the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, stated.

Other nations have also been warned to toe the line or risk being blocked from access to the world’s second-largest economy.

“The Chinese are using investments strategically, manipulating markets through state aid and undermining the European Union’s voice on the world stage by deliberately weakening multilateral institutions and undercutting the EU in third countries,” Eubulletin, a media website, said.

Anyone still interested in “opening up?”