Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday called for the world to reject protectionism even as American and European pressure mounts on Beijing to lower market barriers, speaking at the start of a Chinese-led summit of five large emerging economies now overshadowed by North Korea's sixth nuclear test.
Lamenting that "protectionism and an inward-looking mentality are on the rise," Xi said that "only openness delivers progress and only inclusiveness sustains such progress."
Xi was speaking to business representatives of the BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — a day before he opens a summit with the leaders of these major emerging markets in the southeastern Chinese city of Xiamen. This will be the ninth summit of the BRICS grouping, which came together about a decade ago to push for an alternative world order that wasn't dominated by Western nations.
Xi said the BRICS nations had led the way in increasing the say of emerging economies and developing countries.
"The law of the jungle where the strong prey on the weak and the zero-sum game are rejected," he told the audience, which included Brazilian President Michel Temer and South African President Jacob Zuma.
"We should not ignore problems arising from economic globalization or just complain about them," he said. Rather, BRICS nations should work together with other members of the international community to find solutions, he said.
China has long been accused of putting up unfair barriers to foreign companies. However, Xi has become a leader who speaks out in favor of globalization at a time when protectionist sentiments are on the rise in Western countries. In January, Xi became the first Chinese president to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he cast his country as a champion of free trade in contrast to the protectionist rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Yet, foreign companies complain Beijing is reducing access to its markets for electric cars, computer security technology and other promising fields, at the same time as Chinese companies have been on buying sprees abroad. Beijing also faces U.S. and European complaints it is exporting steel, aluminum, solar panels and other goods at improperly low prices, threatening thousands of jobs in other countries.
On Sunday, Xi said: "The Chinese government will continue to encourage Chinese companies to operate and take root in other countries and likewise we also warmly welcome foreign companies to invest and operate in China."
The summit is another chance for Xi to showcase his leadership of a country that wants to project itself as a central pillar of 21st-century global governance. But the event has been overshadowed by North Korea conducting its sixth nuclear test earlier Sunday, apparently its most powerful yet.
Though Xi did not address the North's nuclear test in his speech, China's foreign ministry strongly condemned the detonation and urged Pyongyang to "stop taking erroneous actions that deteriorate the situation."
A Chinese expert on North Korea with the Renmin University in Beijing said North Korea deliberately chose to conduct the test on Sunday in a bid to "damage the atmosphere" at the BRICS summit.
The latest test means "the Korean Peninsula situation will be at a stage of new crisis, that means the world must either recognize that [North Korea] possesses nuclear weapons or try to realize a nuclear-free peninsula," said Cheng Xiaohe, and assistant professor at Renmin University.
Cheng said North Korea has demonstrated through the test that it is not afraid of any pressure, which leaves other parties with few options.
"This issue may be resolved by force or by putting the greatest pressure, including economic pressure, on North Korea in the future. There are not many choices now," he said.