China puts on a big show, but not everyone is buying its trade message
SHANGHAI, China — China's largest city rolled out the red carpet this week to help President Xi Jinping try to show other nations how serious his country is about becoming their best customer. By official figures, more than 400,000 buyers — including representatives from nearly all of China's state-owned enterprises — had the chance to meet with more than 3,600 businesses from 172 countries at the China International Import Expo. Johnson and Johnson, Honeywell, General Motors and Google were among the nearly 180 American companies reportedly attending. To welcome the businesses, a handful of international state leaders and the Chinese president, Shanghai lit up its buildings across town on Sunday night. Roads shut down, local schools and government offices closed for two days and tech giant Didi partially suspended its ride-hailing service. Roughly 300 students from the local prestigious colleges volunteered to direct visitors around a four-leaf clover exhibition space the size of at least 55 football fields near Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport on the western edge of town. An army of security officers hovered the grounds, and sometimes made guests walk through gated entrances with roughly 30 turns. Of the Communist government's many goals for the import expo — billed as the first of many — "one is to increase China's prestige as a market, as a global leader in international commerce," said Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council. "I think it probably has been pretty successful at that," he said. But as for Xi's stated aim of turning China into a global market importer, "a trade show is probably not particularly relevant," Allen said. Rather, he said, "the real test is whether or not the policy measures articulated by President Xi will be implemented in the near term." Xi kicked off the expo on Monday with a speech that mostly reiterated past promises to further open up the world's second-largest economy to foreign players. As his country faces rising tensions with its largest trading partner, Xi pledged greater punishments for intellectual property theft — a point of contention with the Trump administration. The Chinese leader who this year abolished presidential term limits also said his country will further lower import tariffs and speed up the opening of sectors such as education and culture. Those are moves in the direction the West would like to see, but not enough. "What matters to us is that concrete actions are forthcoming and that reforms are clearly timetabled," Carlo D'Andrea, vice president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China and chairman of the Shanghai Chapter, said in a statement. "If China really will continue to open up, we would have expected additional and specific commitments to have been announced by President Xi (on Monday)."