Xi Jinping visits Shanghai for the first time since it was hit hard by COVID-19
Shanghai is the home for top foreign firms like Tesla, General Motors, Walt Disney and the 10-year-old Shanghai Free-Trade Zone (FTZ).
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday inspected key commercial establishments in Shanghai, home to some of the biggest foreign firms, as he attempted to shore up business confidence in China amid dwindling inflow of foreign investment and the movement of supply chains out of the country.
This is his first visit to Shanghai since the city was hit hard by COVID-19 leading to the harsh two-month-long lockdown in 2022 during which its 25 million population was confined to their dwellings under Xi's 'zero COVID' policy.
He visited the gleaming eastern Chinese city last in 2021.
Xi, 70, in the last two days, inspected the Shanghai Futures Exchange, an exhibition on Shanghai's sci-tech innovations, and a government-subsidised rental housing community, learning about the city's efforts in strengthening its competitiveness as an international financial centre, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
His visit was aimed at building the city into an international sci-tech innovation centre, and constructing government-subsidised rental housing projects, it said.
Shanghai is the home for top foreign firms like Tesla, General Motors, Walt Disney and the 10-year-old Shanghai Free-Trade Zone (FTZ), a testing ground for China's economic reforms.
Since, 2021, the world's second-largest economy has been hit hard by recurring and prolonged lockdowns of various cities which exacerbated China's economic woes, denting the business confidence including its once-booming property sector.
Xi's first visit came close on his successful visit to the US this month where he had a “strategic and historic” summit with US President Joe Biden during which the two leaders agreed to tone down their harsh policies and rhetoric against each other.
While their summit sparked speculation of a subtle shift in US-China power dynamics, Xi in his address to the APEC CEO summit in San Francisco pledged to tear down foreign investment barriers and promised to invite foreign capital with "heart-warming" measures.
"We will strive to tear down the barriers to the flow of innovation factors, deepen reform of the digital economy, and promote free and orderly flow of data in compliance with the law," he said in his speech aimed at raising sagging business confidence in China leading to shifting of supply chains.
Ahead of his inspections in Shanghai, Xi ordered greater protection for international firms' rights and intellectual property in a bid to address concerns of foreign companies over crackdowns and raids on multinationals and favourable treatment for domestic competitors.
On Tuesday official media quoted him telling a high-powered political bureau of the ruling Communist Party of China that id China must ensure "comprehensive, open and transparent" legal treatment of foreign entities.
The country’s legal system should "strengthen protection of intellectual property rights", he said, as well as "safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of foreign enterprises".
China must "create a market-oriented, legal and international first-class business environment", Xi said.
“It is important to raise the awareness of legal compliance, including guiding Chinese citizens and enterprises to abide by local laws and regulations and customs when going abroad, and that they should apply laws and rules to safeguard their legitimate rights and interests” official media quoted Xi as saying.
Observers say China's current economic woes were largely attributed to Xi's emphasis more on security issues denting business confidence.
"In the past five years, however, security concerns have taken top priority," Post columnist Wang Xiangwei said.
Last year, in his keynote speech at the 20th Communist Party national congress, Xi spoke of pursuing development as the government's central task but devoted far more time to national security and social stability, Wang wrote in his column in the Post on Monday.
"Now that China and the US are heading for a period of uneasy calm, China's leadership must take advantage of the window of opportunity to find a better balance between security and development. That calls for a renewed effort to genuinely make pursuing development the government's central task," Wang said.