BEIJING — Top Chinese economic policymakers promised this weekend that Beijing was ready to open up the country’s economy to more market-based competition and international trade, the latest sign of strong Chinese interest in ending a multibillion-dollar trade war with the United States.
Senior U.S. officials are scheduled to come to Beijing in the coming days for trade talks, with Chinese officials then heading for Washington the following week in an attempt to wrap up a deal.
But Chinese officials have an extra incentive in pledging to loosen their hold over the world’s No. 2 economy, and not just to the Trump administration. In addition to a trade war that is hitting the country’s exporters, China’s economy has also been hurt by private sector business leaders who have become increasingly cautious in recent months about making new investments.
The economy has slowed, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of skepticism that further private investments will be profitable. State-owned enterprises have claimed a growing share of the loans available in the economy, a sign that the government may be crowding out the private businesses that could drive future growth. Xi Jinping, the country’s leader, has insisted that the Communist Party play an ever-greater role in corporate decisionmaking and daily life.
The promises of economic opening may sound familiar. Chinese officials have said for years that they were ready to allow foreign competitors to enter their market on a more equal footing, with slow progress. The promises made over the weekend in many cases repeated pledges that have been made before, such as to open the country’s financial sector more widely to foreign investment.
The tone of remarks at this weekend’s session of the China Development Forum, the country’s premier annual economic policy conference, was nonetheless striking. It appeared to represent a coordinated effort to present an international image of China as a country moving in the direction of greater economic openness.
Han Zheng, one of the seven men who run the country as members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, said that China wanted to keep increasing imports. “We do not strive for a trade surplus,” he said.
Yi Gang, governor of the central bank, said that China wanted more foreign investment. He said the government was looking for ways to let foreign investors trade derivatives and other financial instruments so as to limit their exposure to risk.
Such a move could mean loosening Beijing’s controls over the value of its currency — a politically sensitive subject and one in which Beijing has a mixed record — and Yi offered no details.
Han, Yi and other senior officials took turns extolling a new foreign investment law approved by China’s legislature March 15, describing it as a carefully thought-out framework for making the country a more appealing place to invest.
“China never pays lip service,” said Han Wenxiu, the executive deputy director of the powerful, policy-setting General Office of the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission. “We will honor our words and act on them.”
Foreign lawyers have described the law as vague, noting that a third of the provisions are no longer than one sentence each and that domestic companies are still covered by separate legislation.
Chinese officials also emphasized their willingness to allow foreign banks, securities firms, insurers and asset management companies to buy larger stakes in their Chinese competitors.