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Xi takes swipe at US by urging restraint from 'meddling'

In Boao Speech, President Says China Will Never Seek 'hegemony, Expansion'

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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers via video link a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia.   © Reuters

In a message seemingly directed at the U.S. and its allies, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged countries across the world to adopt multilateralism rather than erecting barriers to cooperation.

Speaking via video on Tuesday to the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual meeting held in the Chinese southern province of Hainan, Xi said countries should refrain from "bossing others around or meddling in others' internal affairs."

This was an ostensible reference to the recent uproar about allegations of Beijing's using the forced labor of ethnic minority Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.

The speech came days after U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to work together to confront challenges from China at a meeting in Washington last week. A joint statement released after the summit emphasized the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and touched on concerns over human rights situations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang -- both themes that Beijing regards as internal matters.

"We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world," Xi said without naming any nation. "Big countries should behave in a manner befitting their status and with a greater sense of responsibility."

Allaying fear of China's growing economic and military might, Xi said: "China will never seek hegemony, expansion, or a sphere of influence no matter how strong it may grow. Nor will China engage in an arm race."

In its twentieth installment, the Boao Forum, known by local media as the 'Davos of Asia' was established with the aim to forge closer cooperation between Asian economies and the world.

Other leaders joining Xi online included South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva. They will deliberate topics include global governance and Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, according to the forum organizer.

Attempts by countries to "erect walls" or "decouple" would not be beneficial to all, Xi said. Instead, he proposed greater promotion of trade and investment liberation to expand economic integration as the "key to post-COVID-19 economic recovery."

In particular, Xi said efforts should be directed to stimulate the digital economy, and uphold cooperation in fields such as artificial intelligence and biomedicine -- business sectors that have gained pace in China in recent years.

China, Xi said, will play an active role in multilateral cooperation on trade and investment, and fully implement the country's Foreign Investment Law with the aim to cut further the negative list on foreign investment.

He also reiterated an earlier promise to make Chinese vaccines a "global public good." China has exported millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines to over 80 countries so far.

"China will continue anti-COVID cooperation with the World Health Organization and other countries and do more to help developing countries defeat the virus," Xi said.

On international cooperation to tackle climate change issues, Xi said: "The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities must be upheld, and concerns of developing countries on capital, technology and capacity building must be addressed."

To promote better understanding of China and the world, Xi said his government will host the second Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations when the pandemic comes under control. The conference was inaugurated in Beijing in 2019 in the aftermath of trade tension with the U.S.