Pursuing Open and Integrated Development for Shared Prosperity
– Speech at the 44th Singapore Lecture
H.E. Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China
Singapore, 13 November 2018
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong,
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to deliver the 44th Singapore Lecture organized by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in collaboration with Business China and communicate with all of you on this occasion. I wish to first express my appreciation to the two institutions for their long and productive efforts to promote closer engagement and better understanding between China and Singapore. Let me also use this opportunity to extend, on behalf of the Chinese government and people, warm greetings to the distinguished audience today and through you, to the Singaporean people.
China-Singapore relations have been making steady progress with deepening practical cooperation. During President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Singapore in 2015, our two countries established an all-round cooperative partnership progressing with the times. The purpose of my visit this time is to work with Singaporean colleagues to review past progress, further build consensus and deepen cooperation in order to lift our relations to a higher level.
China and Singapore are close neighbors linked by the sea, and our peoples are bonded with a special affinity. I still recall my visit to Singapore back in 1985 when I felt deeply impressed by Singapore’s vibrant economy, magnificent skyline, orderly society and efficient governance. More than thirty years on, I see new progress and a country bustling with new energy. Over the past five decades and more since independence, Singapore has made remarkable achievements, becoming the world’s important economic and financial center, shipping hub, petrochemical and electronics manufacturing center and a R&D center of biotechnology. It now occupies a leading position in the world in terms of development level, innovation capacity and competitiveness. I wish to hereby express my sincere congratulations on Singapore’s tremendous accomplishments.
Singapore’s success story has been underpinned by an abiding commitment to openness and vigorous efforts to develop an open economy in keeping with the trend of economic globalization. China’s progress in the past four decades has also been powered by ever wider opening-up. The decision to integrate itself into the world economy and share opportunities and benefits in the process of opening-up has not only propelled China’s own progress but also contributed to world development. The course of development of our countries thus shows that pursuing open and integrated development is a sure path leading to prosperity and inclusive growth for countries regardless of size. It is also the reason for the unprecedented and sustained growth of the post-war global economy.
We live in a world of extensive, profound and complex changes. Continued momentum of recovery coupled with the emergence of troubling risks and challenges has brought the global economy again to a crossroads. Economic globalization is facing a backlash, protectionism and unilateralism are on the rise and global trade tensions are gathering. These developments have eroded global economic and trade growth, and dampened confidence in the prospect of future development.
At the same time, the new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation on the back of economic globalization have created new opportunities for global growth, yet they are also handicapped by a lack of inclusiveness, as reflected in the uneven distribution of opportunities and benefits and hard-hit traditional industries and jobs. Facing these risks and challenges, we in the international community must decide where we should go and how we should respond.
The right decision can only be made with a proper understanding and evaluation of the realities. An objective fact that any fair-minded person would recognize is that economic globalization, by enabling freer flow of goods, capital, people and information, has delivered producers bigger markets, consumers more choices, and countries broader space for development.
Moreover, every leap in global productivity and human civilization in the past was driven by technological revolution and industrial transformation. At a time when the traditional drivers of growth are losing steam, the new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation would be critical for sustained, steady growth of the world economy.
Just as every coin has two sides, economic globalization and the new technological revolution and industrial transformation also have their upsides and downsides. Yet compared with the compelling benefits they bring, the problems and imbalances are but side effects that can be tackled with effective responses. What would be inadvisable is to allow the bigger gains to be undermined, or to quote a Chinese idiom, give up eating for fear of choking. Such a line of reasoning would help us draw a logical conclusion and make the right decision.
The rules-based multilateral trading system is the cornerstone of economic globalization and the international economic and trade order. Its authority and efficacy should be respected and upheld. Admittedly, the WTO rules do fall short in some respects, which ought to be brought up to date by reforms. China has all along been positive toward the reform. That said, the reform should be guided by some basic principles: the overall direction of trade liberalization should not change; the basic principles of openness, transparency, inclusiveness and nondiscrimination should not change; and no attempts should be made to dismantle the current system or build a new one. Such attempts would weaken the foundations of the multilateral trading system and destabilize global trade.
As the reform involves the interests of all parties, there should be equal participation, with the concerns of the majority WTO members accommodated and the broadest possible common ground pursued. In particular, the development rights and interests of all developing members must be upheld in order to narrow, rather than widen, the North-South gap. The intricacy of the reform determines that a package solution that fixes all problems at the same time would be unrealistic. Instead, prioritization should be sorted out so that the most pressing issues such as the selection of new members to the Appellate Body will be addressed first.
Free and fair trade are two major concepts in the multilateral trading system. China advocates free trade, which is the foundation and prerequisite of trade. At the same time, China has all along pursued equity and fairness in trade with concrete actions, as we believe trade that is inequitable or unfair would not be sustainable. The equitable and fair trade China stands for is one underpinned by the WTO principles of multilateralism, inclusiveness and nondiscrimination. What we oppose is the practice of imposing unilateral rules or engaging in protectionism in the guise of fair trade. Specific issues concerning fair trade should be tackled in the broader context of free trade. Only in this way can the reform of the WTO move forward along the right track and can the world economy grow further through openness, exchanges and integration.
History tells us that humanity has the wisdom and means needed to tackle all kinds of risks and challenges. No obstacles would be insurmountable when we join hands and work together like we did during the global financial crisis. I have strong confidence and expectation that this togetherness will tide us over any difficulty and usher in a bright future for the world economy.