In APEC speech, Xi touts China’s economy as base of free trade

President Xi Jinping hailed China as the pivot point for global free trade on Thursday, vowing to keep its “super-sized” economy open for business and warning against protectionism as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buoyed by the signing of the world’s largest trade pact over the weekend, Mr. Xi said the Asia-Pacific is the “forerunner driving global growth” in a world hit by “multiple challenges.”

He vowed “openness” to trade and rejected any possibility of the “decoupling” of China’s economy, in his only nod to the hostile trade policy of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which has battered China with tariffs and tech restrictions.

Mr. Xi was speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, held online this year because of the pandemic, which brings together 21 Pacific Rim countries, accounting for about 60% of global GDP.

It was not immediately clear if Mr. Trump, wounded by his election loss to Joe Biden, would take part in the two-day gathering or send a high-level delegate in his place.

In a speech that veered into triumphalism over China’s economic “resilience and vitality” in bouncing back from the virus, which first emerged in the central city of Wuhan, Mr. Xi warned countries who insist on trade barriers would suffer self-inflicted wounds.

“Openness enables a country to move forward while seclusion holds it back,” he said.

“China will actively cooperate with all countries, regions and enterprises that want to do so. We will continue to hold high the banner of openness and co-operation.”

Bargaining chip

But Mr. Xi’s rhetoric may raise eyebrows in capitals where China has either restricted trade or used its giant economy as a bargaining chip in wider geopolitical disputes.

Australian exports of beef, wine and barley to China — their biggest market – have been restricted.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which excludes the US, is viewed as a major coup for China and further evidence that Beijing is setting the agenda for global commerce as Washington retreats.

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