China reaffirms increased open-up commitment in premier's first overseas trip of new year
Switzerland and Ireland have become the latest of a handful of countries to benefit from China's much-celebrated visa-free policy.
The special treatment was announced by Chinese Premier Li Qiang in his official visits to the two European countries, his first overseas trip this year, during which he also attended the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting at Davos, Switzerland.
The overtures, widely reported by media outlets in both countries, sent an unmistakable signal that against the headwinds of mounting protectionism, the world's second-largest economy will open its door even wider to the outside world.
This cordial posture has been the hallmark of the premier's four-day tour which kicked off the high-level exchanges between China and Europe this year.
In Bern, Switzerland, Li and President of the Swiss Confederation Viola Amherd announced the completion of the joint feasibility study on the augmentation of their Free Trade Agreement. Signed in 2013, it marked the first free trade deal between China and an economy in continental Europe.
"The meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang renewed our close bilateral ties and paved the way for further negotiations on a reciprocal free trade agreement," Amherd wrote on X, formerly Twitter. She pledged more visa facilitation for Chinese citizens as well as Chinese enterprises investing in Switzerland.
In Dublin, Li and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar pledged that the two countries will regard each other as "development opportunities" and continue to expand trade and two-way investment.
Ireland wants to have "a very strong and constructive relationship with China," said Varadkar, "one based on trust and respect, and one informed by our values and the multilateral system in which we're both stakeholders."
"The pledges to uphold openness and the steps taken are sure to further boost the economy of both China and these European countries," said Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
More importantly, he said, they will inject positive energy into a world fraught with divisions and uncertainties. "As long as China and Europe join hands, there will be less chances of so-called de-coupling."
Ireland was the fourth European country Li has visited since taking office as China's premier last March. He visited Germany and France in June last year, making Europe the destination for his first trip abroad.
The island nation, whose development is underpinned by trade and openness, played a special part in China's reform and opening-up. In 1980, two years after the reform and opening-up policy was launched, a group of Chinese officials landed in Shannon, a tiny Irish town some 189 km southwest of Dublin.
With a population of less than 10,000, Shannon is nonetheless famous for its economic development and widely recognized as the headstream of modern special economic zones (SEZ).
"They were very engaged," said Brian Callanan, then a strategic planning officer at Shannon Development, referring to the Chinese delegation. "I felt they were absorbing everything."
Soon afterward, China set up four SEZs, which became a major driving force for its economic growth. The changes taking place in China are commended by economists as "one of the most miraculous changes" in world history.
"In the past four decades and more, China has achieved development and shared benefits with the world through opening up," Li said Tuesday on the podium of the WEF in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. "China remains firmly committed to opening up."
China, he said, embraces investments from businesses of all countries with open arms, and will work tirelessly to foster a market-oriented, law-based and world-class business environment.
Addressing the global business audience, the premier pledged, among others, to continue to shorten the negative list for foreign investment, follow through on removing all restrictions on access for foreign investment in the manufacturing sector, and guarantee national treatment for foreign businesses.
The premier's speech revealed Beijing's unswerving determination to promote an open world economy and share China's development opportunities with other countries, Deloitte China Chair Jiang Ying told Xinhua on the sidelines of the WEF.
She anticipated more opportunities for global economic growth and employment as China further opens up its market and facilitates international trade and investment.
"Standing at a crossroads in the history of mankind, choices made by countries, especially major ones, hold global significance," Feng said. "China's firm commitment to further opening up and multilateral cooperation demonstrates a strong sense of international responsibility as a reliable force."
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