News Analysis: New reforms open China’s borders and business

BEIJING, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) — China is working to open its economy wider to the world as persistent headwinds threaten to derail growth.
Promoting opening up while pushing forward reforms will add new impetus and vitality, President Xi Jinping said at a meeting of a group tasked with steering reforms on Tuesday.
In an effort to do so, several new guidelines including a negative list regulating market access, easier green card applications for foreigners and allowing border areas to explore new business models were adopted at the 16th Meeting of the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform.
China will further expand on its negative list to identify sectors and businesses that are off-limits for investment and gradually improve the list through pilot programs. The list has been piloted in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone since 2013.
To live up to its promise of “letting the market play a decisive role in resource allocation,” the government vowed efforts to delegate powers to the enterprises and let them decide how to run their businesses in sectors that do not appear on the negative list.
The list approach is intended to give freedom for foreign investors as any sectors not banned on the list are open for investment.
It is also a critical part of protracted talks between China and the United States on a bilateral investment treaty (BIT). After rounds of talks since 2008, the two sides began discussing implementation of a negative list since June. An agreement would mean a breakthrough on the BIT deal.
According to Tuesday’s statement, it will be easier for foreigners to apply for permanent residence permits, or green cards, by simplifying requirements and streamlining the application procedure.
China only issued around 5,000 permanent residence permits between 2004, when the green card policy was introduced, and 2012. That compares with about 600,000 total foreigners living in the country, most on medium- or long-term visas.
The statement also said China will allow border areas to explore new models of cross-border economic cooperation and new mechanisms for promoting regional growth.
Compared to coastal areas in eastern China, border areas in the west lag behind in terms of opening up, said Shi Benye, a professor at Jilin University.
To fix that, authorities will increase infrastructure construction in border areas, improve local tourism and ramp up fiscal and taxation support, according to the statement.
Experts believe there is vast potential waiting to be unlocked in China’s border areas.
For example, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region can play a key role in the country’s cooperation with the ASEAN member countries. Yunnan and Xinjiang can leverage their geographical advantages to forge closer business ties with neighboring countries.
China’s northeastern “rust belt” provinces and Inner Mongolia can work to tap northeast Asia.
Guangxi has achieved a 13.3 percent growth in exports in the first eight months, compared to a 1.6 percent drop in China’s total exports during the same period, statistics show.
Guangxi’s fast growth in exports is closely related to its increased efforts to promote border trade, especially with ASEAN countries, according to Wang Dongtang, an official with the Ministry of Commerce.
In the next five years, China will seek to advance the opening up of its border areas under the guidance of state-level development strategies such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Yangtze River Economic Belt development plan, said Huang Shengqiang, an official of the General Administration of Customs.
“The government will not change its policy toward foreign investment, and will continue to protect the lawful interests of foreign-funded companies and provide better services for them,” said a statement issued after Tuesday’s meeting.
With a cooling domestic property market and falling external demand amid a tepid global recovery, China’s economy has hit a soft patch, growing only 7 percent in the first six months, the slowest pace in nearly a quarter of a century and a far cry from the double-digit expansion in previous decades.
The official growth target for 2015 is around 7 percent.  Enditem

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