China “unequivocally rejects protectionism” and will seek to safeguard the global trading system, a top Communist Party official told visiting executives at an economic development forum.
“History shows that no one will benefit from a protectionist approach,” Vice Premier Wang Yang told the Fortune Global Forum in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Wednesday. Wang — making his first big public speech since his promotion to the ruling party’s No. 4 position in October — was addressing a gathering attended by Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Jack Ma and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s Pony Ma.
While acknowledging the challenges facing international trade policies, Wang said that “globalization must continue.” He said China’s opening up had propelled its rise to become the world’s second-largest economy, and that the country’s “development cannot be achieved in isolation from the world.”
Wang’s comments are the latest defense of globalization by the Chinese leadership, in contrast to the “America First” message of U.S. President Donald Trump. Chinese President Xi Jinping has used international forums such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last month in Vietnam and the World Economic Forum earlier this year in Davos, Switzerland, to push similar themes.
Trump administration officials are skeptical of Xi’s pro-globalization statements, arguing that China relies on its own protectionist regime to boost local companies over foreign ones — and shut out U.S. social media companies such as Facebook Inc. altogether. China currently ranks 59th out of 62 countries evaluated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of openness to foreign-direct investment.
Wang, a well known advocate for economic reform who’s now a member of the party’s supreme Politburo Standing Committee, touted eased restrictions on starting foreign ventures in China, as well as moves to lift investment caps in the banking industry and new-energy vehicles sector as evidence of the country’s openness.
The vice premier also reaffirmed China’s commitment to overhauling its state-owned companies by allowing a greater role for markets in allocating resources. He said China would upgrade its development model to focus more on quality of life and the environment and less on economic growth.
Wang was speaking in the provincial capital of Guangdong, the country’s southern manufacturing hub with an economy larger than Mexico’s. Wang held the province’s top job from 2007 to 2012 and gained a reputation for promoting a relatively liberal package of policies known as the “Guangdong model,” which allowed a greater role for non-profits and trade unions.
Wang also received international recognition for his efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to protests in the fishing village of Wukan that saw residents expel local party officials in 2012, winning him a place on Time Magazine’s most-influential list.
This year’s Fortune Forum focuses on “openness and innovation” in shaping the global economy. U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad is also scheduled to address the forum Wednesday. Other speakers include Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.