China’s premier, trying to boost economy, says West is sowing division

TIANJIN, China — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday accused the West of “sowing division and conflict,” in thinly veiled criticism of Washington as he sought to cast his country as a responsible world power and a champion of globalization.

Speaking at the opening of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting of new champions in Tianjin — sometimes called “Summer Davos” — Li worked to draw a contrast between his country and “some people in the West,” who, he said, politicized. Economic issues at a time when the global economy needs the most exchange and cooperation.

“The invisible barriers put up by a few in recent years have become widespread, pushing the world into division and conflict,” Li said.

It was the first time the event had been held in person before the pandemic and Lee’s first time on center stage. Li, a former head of the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai who became prime minister in March, is close to Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades.

Participants included the Prime Ministers of New Zealand, Vietnam and Barbados, as well as the Director General of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

“The rhetoric of some people in recent years has fueled ideological prejudice and hatred, and as a result, we are seeing sieges and repressive measures,” Li said at the forum, which runs until Thursday.

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His comments came after the United States and the Group of Seven other nations pledged to reduce exposure to China, the world’s second-largest economy, saying China’s business practices were “distorting the global economy.”

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen first used the language of “de-risk, not decoupling” in January this year.

Li aimed directly at the strategy of de-risking — a term US officials say means a willingness to reduce risky dependencies.

“If there is risk in a particular sector, businesses are in a better position to assess such risk. Governments … should not exaggerate and stretch the concept of risk to make it an ideological tool,” the Prime Minister said.

In a visit to Beijing last week, the country’s Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the US was not trying to “contain” China economically, but was trying to make sure China did not sell specific technologies that could be used against US interests. Beijing’s nuclear weapons or hypersonic missile programs.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. is scheduled to visit Beijing next week. Yellen echoed this, saying the disengagement would be “disastrous” and that the US only wanted to make the relationship “de-risked”.

But China sees such efforts as part of a U.S. plan to contain its rise, and outside pressure efforts have stalled for Beijing as it struggles to restart a consumer-led economy after three years of stalled “zero Covid” policies.

Estimates for China’s growth this year range from 4.4 percent to more than 6 percent. S&P Global on Tuesday cut its growth forecast for China to 5.2 percent from 5.5 percent.

Weak consumer spending — on everything from gadgets to cars — and slower property sales have spurred growth immediately after the end of zero-covid restrictions in December, which is now losing its momentum.

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During the three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday last weekend, the number of trips taken and the amount spent on them were lower than in 2019 before the pandemic, according to official figures.

Some experts on a Chinese government think tank have called on the government to issue special treasury bonds to subsidize cash-strapped households for all 1.4 billion people in China.

The risk of a serious property market downturn, unsustainable levels of government debt and rising unemployment also add to concerns about the Chinese economy.

Youth unemployment is particularly bad, with the rate for 16- and 24-year-olds hitting a record high of 20 percent last month, which analysts say doesn’t paint the full picture of unemployment.

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But Li, who is in charge of China’s economic policies, has sought to restore confidence in the Chinese economy as it struggles to recover. He said he was “absolutely confident” in his country’s economic prospects and that China was on track to reach its economic target of “around 5 percent”.

“China, as a responsible great country, stands on the right side of history and the right side of progress,” he said.

As officials like Li try to emphasize that China is open for business again, officials at home have cracked down on foreign consultancies, cracked down on Chinese entrepreneurs and renewed the Foreign Espionage Act.

Officials continue to monitor information closely. On Monday, popular financial blogger Wu Xiaobo was banned from the Sina Weibo site for posting “negative and harmful information” about Chinese economic policies.

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