The world is seeing a tug-of-war between openness and protectionism, as countries like the United States build high trade "walls" of steep tariffs.
Where should we sail the ship of global trade? This year's Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference offered a solution as "opening-up" and "inclusiveness" have become key words repeatedly put forward by attendees.
Asian nations, led by China, are seeking to boost global prosperity through building a free and inclusive trade order. Chinese President Xi Jinping voiced China's staunch support for free and inclusive trade, saying globalization is in line with the common interests of all countries.
CHINA CHAMPIONS FREE TRADE
China is a responsible nation, and a constructor of and contributor to the current international system, the president said.
"We will continue to safeguard the international order and rules, and support free trade and the liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment," Xi said at the four-day meeting, which kicked off Sunday in Boao, a resort in China's southern island province of Hainan.
"The international community should abandon a cold-war mentality and advocate working together to build a community with a shared future for mankind," he said.
In his speech, Xi announced that China will significantly broaden market access, create a more attractive investment environment, strengthen protection of intellectual property rights, and take the initiative to expand imports.
Stephen Groff, vice-president of the Asian Development Bank, said "the open economy and open trade are critical for a sustainable global economic growth."
He added that opening-up would increase competition "in whatever sector that is opening up, which ultimately results in more innovation and better products and better services that ultimately benefit consumers at the end of the day."
Sorao Sugiyama, attache at Japanese Consulate-General in China's southern city of Guangzhou, said that Japan's population is shrinking, so it needs to expand overseas markets, saying that as trade policies in some countries like the United States are turning protectionist, China's increasingly open markets are quite important to Japan.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up. Over the past four decades, China has grown into the world's second largest economy, the largest industrial producer, the largest trader of goods, and the holder of the largest foreign exchange reserves. China has also become a key stabilizer and locomotive for the world economy, contributing over 30 percent of global growth in recent years.
What China fully understands from its reform and opening-up is that the country's development cannot be achieved without the world, while the world also needs China for its development, Xi said Wednesday.
"I see China's reform and opening-up as a good sign. Good for China, for the region and also for the world," Sok Siphana, an advisor to the Cambodian government said.
INCLUSIVENESS MEANS GLOBAL GROWTH
To make globalization more inclusive so that its benefits can be shared more extensively, Beijing has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and is asking others to join it in building a community with a shared future for mankind.
Proposed by Xi in 2013, the BRI aims to achieve policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes, thus building a platform for international cooperation to create new drivers of growth.
"One must understand that the BRI is fundamental to the global industrial chain and those who join it will reap the benefits," B.R. Deepak, professor of Chinese Studies in India's Jawaharlal University, New Delhi, told Xinhua in an interview on Tuesday.
Bisides BRI, over the past five years, China has also rolled out initiatives like Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and has increased its investment in the world's least developed countries in Asia, said Lim Ming Yan, president and group CEO of CapitaLand, one of Asia's largest real estate companies, adding that these initiatives will stimulate trade and investment in the region.
Yasuo Fukuda, chairman of BFA and former Japanese prime minister, said that China's BRI will help promote the development of countries along the Belt and Road, as well as economic cooperation, environmental protection and the free flow of materials, talent and information.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said both the BRI and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) pilot project have drawn the attention of many countries and investors and could bring prosperity to the people of South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.
U.S. WRONG PRESCRIPTION FOR ECONOMIC PROBLEMS
The unilateral slapping of steep tariffs by the U.S. on foreign goods has triggered condemnation from business groups and trading partners around the world.
"The United States doesn't care much about the economic system any more. It is more focused on extracting self-regarding gains from the system as its position of preeminence within the system whittles away," said Sourabh Gupta, senior fellow at the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington, D.C.
Washington gave the wrong prescription in trying to solve problems in the American economy caused mainly by excessive consumption, Zhou Wenzhong, secretary-general of the BFA, told a press conference at the forum on Sunday, noting that "protectionism will lead nowhere."
Trade protectionism cannot secure an everlasting impetus for economic growth, but instead imposes restrictions on the sustainability of economic development, according to a report released at the press conference.
"Free trade is the source of economic growth. Opening-up can bring progress while closing-off only leads to backwardness," said Zhang Yuyan, director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"We should actively adapt ourselves to globalization rather than halt our steps because of temporary difficulties or problems," Xi said.
"We should stick to an open development concept and make economic globalization more open, inclusive, and balanced so that its benefits are shared by all," the president said.