China is planning to send its highest-level delegation to the annual Alpine meeting of business, social and political leaders in Davos since the global recession of 2009.
With its growth slowing and foreign business groups criticizing China for discrimination against non-Chinese companies, the gathering in Switzerland offers a platform to reassure international decision-makers the second-largest economy is still open for business.
China’s contingent will be led by PremierLi Keqiang, according to people with knowledge of the planning, who asked not to be named as the trip hasn’t been made public. Premier Wen Jiabao went in 2009, weeks after unveiling a $586 billion stimulus to support what was then the world’s No. 4 economic power.
“The year 2014 saw foreign companies and investors grow some doubt and concern about China’s openness,” said Zhang Wenkui, a senior researcher in Beijing at the Development Research Center, a unit of the State Council, or cabinet. “Premier Li will likely make an effort to dispel that concern at a top economic forum, and show China’s unswerving determination on further reform and greater openness.”
Li, a 59-year-old who studied economics before rising through the Communist Party, took office two years ago. With President Xi Jinping, he has worked to shift China toward a more service- and consumption-based economy, away from debt-fueled construction and foreign-demand dependent exports.
Xi has sought to dispel concern about the transition, which has left growth at risk of slipping below policy makers’ 7 percent target. In May, Xi said the nation was entering a “new normal” period. Even so, officials have approved plans to accelerate 300 infrastructure projects valued at 7 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) this year to address a weakening expansion, people with knowledge of the matter said this week.
Li’s Davos plans haven’t been completed, and the State Council Information Office said it didn’t have information to make public on the matter. Li previously attended Davos when he was vice premier in 2010.
“The World Economic Forum will be a good platform for the top Chinese leaders to show the global elite China is confident in its ’new normal’ economy,’’ said Han Meng, a senior researcher at the Institute of Economics, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “There is nothing scary about a somewhat slowed, but more balanced economy.”
Also not scary: China’s antitrust initiatives, according to Li. The premier in September repeatedly sought to counter perceptions that the government was making it tougher for foreign companies to operate in the country.
U.S. and European business groups issued reports last year expressing concern that foreign companies had faced the brunt of antitrust scrutiny. The American Chamber of Commerce in China called enforcement “selective and subjective.”
China will treat foreign and domestic companies equally, Li said at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin in September, an event attended by executives from companies including Qualcomm Inc. Qualcomm is one of the targets of China’s antitrust probes.
The premier also called Wednesday for greater transparency in government-approval procedures, saying more openness can boost the credibility of governance in China, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Davos has rarely hosted Chinese premiers. Wen’s 2009 visit was the first such attendance since Li Peng went in 1992, when China’s relations with western nations were thawing after the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen democracy movement.
“There’s a noticeable pick up in number of Chinese delegates this year,” said Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center of Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, who has attended Davos for the past three years and is going again this year. “More Chinese businessmen and government officials want to be there” given Li’s plans, he said.