BOAO, Hainan (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): New Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Thursday (March 30) said that sustained peace remains a prerequisite for Asia’s prosperity, and urged leaders in the region not to take sides in conflicts as tensions continue to rise between China and the United States.
In his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference, Li also called for countries in Asia to guard against the trend of decoupling, despite unprecedented uncertainty in the global environment.
The forum was first held in Boao in 2002.
Li said that China remains committed to opening up, no matter how the global situation evolves.
“To achieve greater success, chaos and conflicts must not be allowed to happen in Asia, or the future will be lost,” added Li, addressing his largest international audience since taking over the role of China’s prime minister earlier in March.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez were among foreign government leaders attending this year’s forum in Boao, a town in China’s Hainan province.
Projections by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimate that Asia’s economy is set to grow by 4.5 per cent in 2023 - up from the 4.2 per cent in 2022 - and higher than the forecast global growth rate of 2.9 per cent on the back of weakened external demand and inflation concerns.
China’s relationship with the US, its largest trading partner and biggest rival, has been deteriorating, with countries and companies worried that they will be caught in the rivalry between the two major economies.
In his address, Li also said that China’s economy performed better in March than in the first two months of the year.
China’s economy rebounded in January and February as people spent more, with the latest official data showing that the country’s retail sector grew by 3.5 per cent in the first two months of the year, reversing the 1.8 per cent decline in December after the country lifted Covid-19-related restrictions in end-2022.
“The certainty that China can offer in this growing uncertain world is an anchor for global peace and development,” he added.
Li’s speech on Thursday is also aimed at restoring foreign investors’ confidence that China is back in business, after strict pandemic controls in 2022 severely hampered business activity.
In 2022, the world’s second-largest economy expanded by 3 per cent, failing to meet its stated target of around 5.5 per cent, as harsh Covid-19 controls and sharp downturns in its formerly-booming property and tech sectors dragged growth down.
This year, the government is aiming for a growth rate of around 5 per cent – a goal that economists said the country will have few problems reaching, considering the low base in 2022.
Li arrived in Boao on Wednesday, and met with foreign leaders, including IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva and Ivory Coast Prime Minister Patrick Achi.
It is the first year since the onset of the pandemic that the forum, which is thought of as Asia’s version of the yearly World Economic Forum held in Davos in Switzerland, has all delegates attending in person following China’s lifting of its stringent measures to fight Covid-19.
Organisers had cancelled the forum in 2020 due to the pandemic. In 2021 and 2022, it was conducted in a mixed format of online and offline sessions.
President Xi Jinping had delivered the forum’s opening addresses in 2021 and 2022 virtually. Former premier Li Keqiang and Xi usually took turns in delivering the opening address for the forum.
Since Tuesday, the forum’s first day, participants, comprising business leaders, former politicians and heads of intergovernmental organisations, have been attending panel discussions, roundtable talks and interviews on topics ranging from supply chain disruptions to green financing.
The four-day forum will end on Friday.