China will continue to keep its doors open to the world, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged yesterday, as he described the decline in international cooperation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic as a dangerous trend.
Keeping industrial and supply chains stable and access to public goods open was essential to the global response to the pandemic, he said.
He added that Beijing would also expand cooperation with the world and boost imports, and invited other countries to come and invest in “this big market of China”.
“It is impossible for any country to achieve further developments with its door closed. It is impossible for us to retreat back into agrarian times,” he said.
“China will keep to its opening-up policy, China will not waver in this commitment, nor is it possible for us to shut our door to the outside world.”
He added that Beijing hoped to conclude the Asean-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership this year, and said China had “an open attitude” to joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
Mr Li was speaking at his annual press conference after the closing of meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s Parliament.
He addressed calls for companies to diversify supply chains and move operations out of China amid disruptions caused by the pandemic, saying these shifts should take place according to market rules.
Mr Li told the media there had been a “significant deceleration and decline” of cooperation between countries because of measures imposed to contain Covid-19.
“It has also had a big impact on the global economy, and that is something dangerous. Should such a trend continue, it may even be difficult for us to press ahead with the Covid-19 response,” he said.
Asked about an international independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, something that countries including the United States and Australia have been calling for, Mr Li said China was open to “international cooperation”.
“We have all along acted with openness, transparency and a sense of responsibility,” he said.
US President Donald Trump and other American officials have referred to Covid-19 as a “Chinese virus” and accused China of mishandling the outbreak. Washington has suggested the virus emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan city.
Tensions between both countries have soared over the pandemic, Hong Kong’s status and other issues. Over the course of the legislative meetings this past week, the tensions have been a topic of concern.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said American politicians were pushing both sides into a “new Cold War”. A day before, Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said tensions had entered a “high-risk” period.
Mr Li said the Sino-US relationship was complex but very important, and while friction was unavoidable, both sides should find a way to work together.
He pointed to US industrial giant Honeywell, which recently set up its Chinese headquarters in Wuhan, as an example, saying that both parties stood to benefit if they cooperated.
“We have all long rejected this Cold War mentality. Decoupling between (our) major economies will do neither side any good, it is also harmful to the world,” he said.
Associate Professor Li Mingjiang from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said comments from top Chinese leaders at this year’s legislative meetings indicate that Beijing wants to keep its relationship with Washington from going off the edge.
“They are trying to address criticism but at the same time send out signals that they want a stable relationship with the US… they don’t want a Cold War, confrontation or decoupling,” he said.