Open and shut case against China’s business rhetoric 

Premier Li Qiang has leafed through a well-worn playbook to boost investment at Shanghai’s glitzy expo 

It sounds like a stuck record. Under late Premier Li Keqiang, “opening up” China’s economy was peppered in his statements and became a recurring theme in a move to entice multinational companies and foreign investment.

His successor Li Qiang leafed through that well-worn playbook at the weekend during the opening ceremony of this week’s annual China International Import Expo in Shanghai. His address fell on deaf ears.

Twenty-four hours early, Carlo D’Andrea summed up the mood perfectly as the deputy president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce. 

“It’s more a government affair, more a marketing event. You can say [it] has become a political showcase rather than a business event,” he said.

“European [companies] are becoming disillusioned as symbolic gestures take the place of tangible results needed to restore business confidence,” D’Andrea added.

Platitudes to fix problems:

  • China’s economy is in a mess, buffeted by a real estate meltdown, massive local government debt, and sky-high unemployment among the young.
  • On Monday, the country reported its first quarterly deficit in foreign direct investment since 1998.
  • Geopolitical tension with the United States and its allies, “de-risking” and a catch-all National Security Law have scared off foreign investors.

Foreign companies have remained optimistic and embraced the market.

Global Times

Delve deeper: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has regularly touched on China’s “unfair trade practices” and called for a tougher approach in her September State of the Union speech.

Between the lines: Still, Premier Li Qiang’s “opening up” address in Shanghai was predictably praised in China’s state-controlled media, despite the lukewarm response from Beijing’s major trading partners.

What they said: “[During] China’s reform and opening-up, foreign companies that have remained optimistic and embraced the Chinese market have achieved tremendous success [and that] won’t change,” Global Times stated.

China Factor comment: But it has. Sick of being locked out of key Chinese sectors amid economic coercion, leading democracies are hitting back. Beijing’s obsession with national security has only made matters worse.