China's premier reassures region on growth, South China Sea

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrives for a welcome banquet organized by the Singapore Business Community on the sidelines of the 33rd ASEAN summit in Singapore.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrives for a welcome banquet organized by the Singapore Business Community on the sidelines of the 33rd ASEAN summit in Singapore. (Photo: AP)

SINGAPORE (AP) — China's premier sought Tuesday to reassure its neighbors that Beijing will push ahead with reforms needed to support growth across the region and also keep the peace in contested waters in the South China Sea.

Premier Li Keqiang said his government will favor reforms in the world's No. 2 economy over temporary boosts from economic stimulus as China copes with a gradual slowing of growth and a trade war with the United States.

China can energize its slowing economy by adjusting policies, such as streamlining procedures like business registrations, taxes and fees, Li said in a lecture on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that brings together leaders from the U.S. and across the region.

"Despite the downward pressure, we will not resort to massive stimulus. We will make adjustments as appropriate. We want to energize the market, in particular, market entities, and we have the conditions to do that," Li said in the wide-ranging speech that touched on China's role in regional development.

Li said the government also will "crack down harshly" on businesses that infringe on patents and other intellectual property rights and engage in "other cheating activities."

"China will not stop in its opening up. The door will only open wider and China will continue to deepen reform. Reform and opening up have brought China to where it is today," Li added.

China and the U.S. are locked in a trade dispute over Washington's complaints that China uses predatory tactics to acquire technologies that could undermine U.S. industrial leadership. The two countries have raised import duties on billions of dollars of each other's goods, including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey.

While they have rebuffed U.S. demands that Beijing tone down its technology ambitions, China's leaders have sought to enhance their own market opening credentials by lowering tariffs and easing access for foreign companies operating in China for some industries.

In the quarter that ended in September, China's economic growth slowed to 6.5 percent from a year earlier, down from the previous quarter's 6.7 percent. The deceleration reflects long-term efforts to guide the economy toward a more sustainable model of growth and away from excessive reliance on construction spending and exports. But the trade tensions with Washington are adding to the challenges for the Communist leadership, with the two countries imposing tariffs on billions of dollars of each other's goods.

People, some wearing masks for protection against the pollution, walk across a traffic intersection at the Central Business District in Beijing. Photo/AP
People, some wearing masks for protection against the pollution, walk across a traffic intersection at the Central Business District in Beijing. Photo/AP

Li expressed hopes for a compromise. U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are to meet at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina this month.

"We hope that negotiations will be carried out on the basis of mutual respect, balance, mutual benefit and good faith, so that a solution can be found acceptable to both sides," he said.

The meetings in Singapore this week will be followed by an annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea.

Both gatherings address similar concerns about trade, economic integration, regional security and development.

Li also said China was hoping to see within three years a regional "code of conduct" governing activities in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

Over U.S. objections, Beijing has moved to cement its claim to most of the South China Sea, including by building artificial islands and military airstrips atop coral reefs. Talks on a code that would belatedly constrain such activities have made slow progress.

"China and ASEAN countries will benefit in that process. It will also be conducive to free trade and go on to serve the interest of other parties," Li said.

"I want to reaffirm here that China will stay firm on the course of peaceful development," he said. "What we hope is to have a harmonious relationship with our neighbors and together, we benefit from our good neighborliness."

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