Messages from the Boao Forum for Asia

April 26, 2022
About the author:

Xie Maosong, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, and Senior Research Fellow at the National Strategy Institute of Tsinghua University


As the world continues to suffer due to the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, China's choices and stance are being watched closely. Many are concerned that China's pandemic control will have a lasting impact on the country's continued reform and opening up as its choices will have a profound impact on the world.


At the Boao Forum for Asia, which started on April 20 with the theme "The World in COVID-19 and Beyond: Working Together for Global Development and Shared Future," China will provide clear answers for that.


Yes, the world is worried about China's economy under the strict pandemic control, especially as Shanghai, China's business and finance center, is at the center of a new outbreak. The international metropolis has had the highest gross domestic product of all Chinese cities for a decade. Its net fiscal contribution is the second-largest in China. Shanghai is also a major hub for China's global trade, with total foreign trade volume reaching 4 trillion yuan.


There's no doubt that, by sticking to a "dynamic zero-COVID" policy in an effort to break the transmission chain, Shanghai's economy has seen a short-term decline. Many are worried that if it does not rebound quickly, and substantially, the city risks entering a period of pandemic-induced economic stagnation.


As an international hub and the world's largest container port, Shanghai must not let the pandemic spill over to its economically vibrant neighbouring provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu and their cities. This would bring larger disruption to China's economy, and would also place the world economy at risk.


The Chinese government has persevered with the "dynamic zero-COVID" policy with full awareness of Shanghai's role in both the Chinese and world economy. China has learned a lesson from the many Western countries that loosened their COVID-19 policies, only to suffer severe economic downturns.


Shanghai has gradually drawn up a white list of companies deemed safe enough to resume work, including Tesla's factory operations. Some, but not all, middle schools will also reopen after the "golden week" holiday in May. As an ancient Chinese poem suggests, "A thousand sails pass the sunken boats, and thousands of trees grow beside the withered ones."


Shanghai expects to reach dynamic clearance of COVID-19 cases at the end of spring in May. Once the pandemic is over, Shanghai will make great strides in reform and opening up.


While tackling Shanghai's outbreak, China is also focusing on Hainan, benchmarking the southern island against the world's freest ports like Hong Kong, Singapore and Rotterdam. President Xi Jinping visited Hainan 10 days before the opening of the Boao Forum and emphasized the need to speed up the construction of a free-trade port with Chinese characteristics and world influence.


Designating Hainan to become the "paradigm of China's reform and opening up in the new era" can have an impact on the entire nation, as seen with Shenzhen and the Shanghai Pudong New Area in the past.


Based on an awareness of China's long history and civilization, the country is often "picky" about the choice of major international meeting venues. When talking about Hainan Island, people often describe it as "the edge of the world."


This phrase has a multidimensional meaning. It implies that such a place "transcends distance and makes everyone your neighbour" as an old saying goes, and it brings about the integration of cultures.


Many Chinese will remember it as the place to which Su Dongpo, a famous Chinese poet and statesman, was exiled after being demoted. In ancient China, literati or scholar-officials in exile brought the advanced culture of the central areas with them, promoting the integration of cultures and ethnicities.


Today, the world is increasingly talking about the "Asian century." China will work with other countries to fully leverage the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to build the world's largest free-trade zone.


Unlike other countries, China does not attach any political strings to its efforts to promote common development and deepen economic cooperation with other Asian countries, let alone set a debt trap.


Cooperation with strings attached and debt traps are the usual tricks of the West, as illustrated by the recent US aid grant to Nepal and the proposed Lend-Lease Act for Ukraine, which echoes the Lend-Lease programme in 1941 allowing the US government to quickly send war supplies to the United Kingdom during World War II. After World War II ended, the U.S. required the UK, which was struggling to rebuild its economy, to pay its debts. This essentially accelerated the decline of the UK's global influence.


Historically, Chinese civilization respects and acknowledges cultural differences, which is why the Boao Forum for Asia has also adopted topics related to the diversity of civilizations and religions besides economy, science and technology. This diversity represents the historical experience of Asia, the best example of which is the ancient Silk Road.


The economic integration of Asia is completely different from the Monroe Doctrine, fundamentally because China's peaceful and inclusive nature differs greatly from that of the United States.


Continuing Asian economic integration will lead to better economic integration of Asia and Europe, and Africa and America. Over time, Europe will realize that the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment is not for China's benefit alone but the two's mutual benefit, which comes with China making great concessions.


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