China Ponders Over Its Priorities At WEF Summit

Beijing, April 19: | Updated: Apr 20 2002, 05:30am hrs
The World Economic Forum opened its China Business Summit in Beijing. This years summit brings together 600 participants including Chinas CEOs, foreign business leaders from 25 different countries, plus political, cultural, academic and leading media participants.

The whos who in China minced no words in listing out the priorities to make that giant economic leap:

Zhou Xiochuan, Chairman, China Securities Regulatory Commission: China must be far-sighted and show determination in tackling defects and problems if its rapid economic growth is to be sustained. Key macroeconomic issues are corporate governance, management of the banking system and lack of flexibility.

Wu Xiaoling, Vice-Governor, Peoples Bank of China: China has pursued a stable monetary policy in recent years and will continue to implement a system which is compatible with the countrys rate of economic growth. Further reforms are on the way, including accelerating the pace of restructuring credit so as to meet demand.

Jiang Jianqing, President, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China: China can draw encouragement from the fact that the economy is forecast to grow by 7.3 per cent this year. The results for the first quarter showed a growth rate of 7.6 per cent. For those on the other side of the fence at the summit, the China allure is irresistible. But there are caveats too on dealing with the dragon:

Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry for Education, Singapore: The big challenge for Asia is how it engages with China to secure future prosperity. The view of some Asian countries that China will take everything in a new economic order is grossly exaggerated. There is great potential in the Chinese governments proposal to develop a free trade association between China and Asean. Its achievement will require political leadership because seeking complimentarity with China means shifting resources, shifting wealth and shifting sources of political influence.

Victor K. Fung, Chairman, Li & Fung Group, Hong Kong SAR: The immediate impact for China of its accession to the World Trade Organisation will be that its exports will enjoy the protection of WTO rules. This is expected to see a merging of the domestic and export manufacturing sectors. A trend towards the globalization of the Chinese market is clearly visible.

Robert Pritzker, President and Chief Executive Officer, Colson Associates, USA: The experience of manufacturing in China has been a positive one but foreign companies must tread cautiously while pursuing joint ventures. The Chinese workforce is competent, easy to deal with, and reasonable.

Gushing comments and fearful insights over, Long Yongtu, Chief Trade Representative and Vice-Minister, Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation narrowed down the focus to the key question of Chinas ability to stand the test of WTO accession. Long envisages three major elements: The first is to create a stable, transparent and predictable legal platform. He has outlined how efforts have already been made to adapt Chinese laws to WTO rules, and commented that the national legislative body has basically completed this task. Problems, however, still remain in local government, departmental and administerial areas.

The second requirement for the government is to reduce the number of items subject to administrative approval, and to reform government procedures.

Finally - this may ring a bell in the minds of Indian counterparts - it is essential to streamline government bureaucracy and reduce the number of civil servants. Long compared this last task to demolishing superfluous temples and getting rid of the monks - the task is necessary but the monks are bound to resist and attempt to protect the temples.

In typical Chinese fashion, Long added: I firmly believe that these commitments will be good not only for you foreign business people, but primarily for the Chinese economy and for Chinese business people. We can create a win-win situation.

The parting shot was left to Klaus Schwab, President, World Economic Forum, who expressed his own belief in the importance of Chinas WTO accession. China has a population greater than the enlarged European Union, the United States and Japan combined and an annual economic growth rate of 7 per cent.

The accession to WTO demonstrates how China will commit to the kind of rules-based, transparent and stable system that is essential for the international business community.