China talks up a future wherein it wants collaboration with the U.S. and different nations

Chinese and U.S. flags flutter near The Bund, before U.S. trade delegation meet their Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China July 30, 2019.

Aly Song | Reuters

BEIJING — As Chinese authorities prepare to build up their country in the next several years, they’re keen to ensure the rest of the world will still do business with them.

In a high-level press conference Friday, central government officials emphasized the need for other countries to collaborate with China, amid rising global uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic and protectionism. The media event comes as China’s top leadership conclude an important policy meeting aimed at setting the country’s economic and social priorities for the next five years.

The officials particularly pushed back against “decoupling,” or a complete separation of the U.S. and Chinese economies that President Donald Trump’s administration has advocated, beginning with technology. Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has been severely hampered by U.S. restrictions in the last two years.

“Decoupling is basically not realistic, and there’s no benefit for China or the U.S., or the entire world,” said Han Wenxiu, deputy director at the Office of the Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs. That’s according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks.

“Those who want decoupling are few. Those who want collaboration are far more,” Han said, noting that the U.S. and China are only able to be the world’s two largest economies since they complement each other and operate in an open global environment.

The U.S. is China’s largest trade partner, but the two countries have been locked in tensions for more than two years. Each government has levied tariffs on goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars from the other country. Critics say the dominance of the state in China’s economy gives it unfair advantages over American companies and other foreign businesses.

Economists expect China to become the world’s largest economy in the next few years, surpassing the U.S. In an effort to reduce economic dependency on debt-fueled investment and manufacturing of goods for export, China has been trying to increase its reliance on domestic consumption.

Foreign trade still accounts for about 30% of China’s gross domestic product, according to Han, who noted a decline from 60% previously.

“Looking ahead, China’s imports and exports, use of foreign capital, and scale of investment overseas will expand, and international status will rise,” he said. “This is also an important characteristic of a large country’s economy.”

‘Self-reliance’ in technology

Han and four other central government officials were speaking a day after the release of preliminary details on a plan for economic development from 2021 to 2025, also known as the 14th Five-Year Plan. This week’s meeting of the central committee of China’s ruling Communist Party also addressed goals for the year 2035.

The meeting emphasized China’s need to pursue “self-reliance” in technology as a strategy for national development, according to state media. The country has been accelerating its own development of critical technologies such as semiconductors and a navigation system to rival the U.S. Global-Positioning System (GPS).

Again, while describing China’s need to pursue a new phase of development, officials were quick to point out how the country needed to learn from international expertise.

“China’s technological innovation has never been closed innovation, and in the future it will not close its doors to innovate on its own,” Science and Technology Minister Wang Zhigang said during Friday’s press conference, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks.

Aim to build a ‘modern’ society

In the release about goals for 2035, China’s leaders said they would focus on building a “modern socialist China“ that includes modernization of national defense and the military.

The emphasis on “modern” comes after the ruling party said Thursday it will basically achieve its promise of building a “moderately prosperous society” by next year, when the Chinese Communist Party celebrates its 100th anniversary.

The release also said that Beijing expects GDP to top 100 trillion yuan (about $14.9 trillion) this year, which would imply an increase of at least 0.9% from 2019’s level. Longer term, authorities said China aims to become “a strong country in culture, education, talent, sports and health.”

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