Xi Jinping Keynote Speech at the Boao Forum for Asia Conference: Report and Analysis

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Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis  

China’s President Xi Jinping gave the opening, keynote speech at the Boao Forum for Asia Conference 2021 yesterday. The Boao Forum includes Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, The Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

The Boao Forum is a non-profit organization that hosts high-level forums for leaders from government, business and academia in Asia and other countries to share their vision on the most pressing issues in the Asian region and the world at large. About 60 diplomats from 35 countries attended the Forum, which is held annually in Boao in China’s Hainan Island Province.

President Xi’s complete speech, interspersed at intervals with my own comments in italics and useful links, follows:

Xi: “Pulling Together Through Adversity and Toward a Shared Future for All”  

Dear Friends,

‘True friendship brings people close however far apart they may be.’

It gives me great pleasure to attend the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2021 and meet you all in this cloud meeting. Let me begin by extending, on behalf of the Chinese government and people and in my own name, a warm welcome to all the guests participating both in person and online, and cordial greetings and best wishes to all friends old and new.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Boao Forum. Over these two decades, Asian countries have advanced regional economic integration and worked in unison to pursue both economic and social development, which has turned Asia into the most vibrant and promising region in the global economy. Asia has also stood with the rest of the world in the face of terrorism, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the international financial crisis, COVID-19, and other traditional and non-traditional security threats, which has helped maintain stability and security in the region. As an important member of the Asian family, China has kept deepening reform and opening-up while promoting regional cooperation, thus achieving progress and development in tandem with the rest of Asia and the world. It is fair to say that this Forum has borne witness to the extraordinary journey of China, of Asia and of the world, and has exerted a significant influence in boosting development in Asia and beyond.

This year’s annual conference is convened against a very special background. The theme of the conference – “A World in Change: Join Hands to Strengthen Global Governance and Advance Belt and Road Cooperation” – is most opportune and relevant under the current circumstances.

Now, the combined forces of changes and a pandemic both unseen in a century have brought the world into a phase of fluidity and transformation. Instability and uncertainty are clearly on the rise. Humanity is facing growing governance deficit, trust deficit, development deficit, and peace deficit. Much remains to be done to achieve universal security and common development. That said, there is no fundamental change in the trend toward a multi-polar world; economic globalization is showing renewed resilience; and the call for upholding multilateralism and enhancing communication and coordination has grown stronger. While we live in an age rife with challenges, it is also an age full of hope.

Where should humanity go from here? What kind of future should we create for future generations? As we try to answer these important questions, it is crucial that we bear in mind the shared interests of mankind and make responsible and wise choices.

China calls on all countries in Asia and beyond to answer the call of our times, defeat the pandemic through solidarity, strengthen global governance, and keep pursuing a community with a shared future for mankind.

  • We need consultation on an equal footing to create a future of shared benefits. Global governance should reflect the evolving political and economic landscape in the world, conform to the historical trend of peace, development and win-win cooperation, and meet the practical needs in addressing global challenges. We need to follow the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits, uphold true multilateralism, and make the global governance system fairer and more equitable. We need to safeguard the UN-centered international system, preserve the international order underpinned by international law, and uphold the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core. World affairs should be handled through extensive consultation, and the future of the world should be decided by all countries working together. 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. What we need in today’s world is justice, not hegemony. Big countries should behave in a manner befitting their status and with a greater sense of responsibility.”

Devonshire-Ellis: This is an obvious criticism of the United States, which China feels has acted unilaterally and out of step with the United Nations. China is a member of the UN and holds veto power. The political conundrum here then becomes an issue within the UN charter where opposition to sometimes much needed actions can be vetoed for national, rather than global interests. The UN will need reform to adequately deal with this current unsatisfactory status quo. 

Xi: “We need openness and innovation to create a future of development and prosperity. Openness is essential for development and progress. It also holds the key to post-COVID economic recovery. We need to promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, deepen regional economic integration, and enhance supply, industrial, data and human resources chains, with a view to building an open world economy. We need to deepen partnerships for connectivity and strengthen infrastructural links to keep the arteries of economic activities unclogged. We must seize the historical opportunities in a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation, boost the digital economy, and step-up exchanges and cooperation in such areas as artificial intelligence, biomedicine, and modern energy, so that the fruits of scientific and technological innovation can be turned into greater benefits for people in all countries. In this age of economic globalization, openness and integration is an unstoppable historical trend. Attempts to “erect walls” or “decouple” run counter to the law of economics and market principles. They would hurt others’ interests without benefiting oneself.”

Devonshire-Ellis: China has been very active in promoting free trade, whereas the United States and to some extent the EU has been withdrawing from this. It is a contemporary paradox that Communist China is now a Free Trade advocate whereas Capitalist America eschews competition unless it is on its own terms. Xi, the Chairman of the Communist Party, is calling for greater trade and free market access – essentially capitalist values.  

Xi: “We need solidarity and cooperation to create a future of health and security. In the ongoing fight against COVID-19, victory will be ours at the end of the day. We must put people and their lives above anything else, scale up information sharing and collective efforts, enhance public health and medical cooperation, and give full play to the key role of the World Health Organization (WHO). It is important that we bolster international cooperation on the R&D, production and distribution of vaccines and increase their accessibility and affordability in developing countries so that everyone in the world can access and afford the vaccines they need. It is also important that we take comprehensive measures to improve global governance on public health security and work together for a global community of health for all. We need to follow the philosophy of green development, advance international cooperation on climate change, and do more to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities must be upheld, and concerns of developing countries on capital, technology and capacity building must be addressed.”

Devonshire-Ellis: Xi makes one point here, with two main themes, the need for improved global interaction and coordination to deal with both Covid-19 and global warming. Concerning the Covid pandemic, there is still pushback, mainly from the West, concerning the sharing of technologies, supplies and vaccines and this is undoubtedly delaying global recovery. Calls for the dropping of patents and subsequent royalty payments for Covid related medicines have been pushed by China, India, and most countries in Asia, yet the United States and Europe, where much of the patents lie, have been reluctant to release them into the public domain stating that it would disincentivize pharmaceutical MNCs from conducting future research. On a purely pragmatic basis, this is having the effect of the capitalist need for revenue colliding with globally human needs for a worldwide cure. 

Xi points out that on global warming, the United States and China have been able to agree terms and intend to cooperate on issues relating to the climate crisis – using that as an example as to how a better response to the Covid pandemic should be orchestrated. 

Xi: “We need commitment to justice to create a future of mutual respect and mutual learning. Diversity is what defines our world and makes human civilization fascinating. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer to people around the world that we must reject the cold-war and zero-sum mentality and oppose a new “Cold War” and ideological confrontation in whatever forms. In state-to-state relations, the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual trust must be put front and center. Bossing others around or meddling in others’ internal affairs would not get one any support. We must advocate peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom, which are common values of humanity, and encourage exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations to promote the progress of human civilization. In this context, I would like to announce that once the pandemic gets under control, China will host the second Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations as part of our active efforts to promote inter-civilization dialogue in Asia and beyond.”

Devonshire-Ellis: Further veiled criticism of the United States – and interestingly considering who Xi represents – a call for democracy.

Xi: “I have noted on various occasions that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a public road open to all, not a private path owned by one single party. All interested countries are welcome aboard to take part in the cooperation and share in its benefits. Belt and Road cooperation pursues development, aims at mutual benefits, and conveys a message of hope. Going forward, we will continue to work with other parties in high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. We will follow the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and champion the philosophy of open, green, and clean cooperation, in a bid to make Belt and Road cooperation high-standard, people-centered and sustainable.

  •  We will build a closer partnership for health cooperation. Chinese businesses have already started joint vaccine production in BRI participating countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey. We will expand cooperation with various parties in infectious disease control, public health, traditional medicine, and other areas to jointly protect the lives and health of people in all countries.
  • We will build a closer partnership for connectivity. China will work with all sides to promote “hard connectivity” of infrastructure and “soft connectivity” of rules and standards, ensure unimpeded channels for trade and investment cooperation, and actively develop Silk Road e-commerce, all in a bid to open bright prospects for integrated development.
  • We will build a closer partnership for green development. We could strengthen cooperation on green infrastructure, green energy, and green finance, and improve the BRI International Green Development Coalition, the Green Investment Principles for the Belt and Road Development, and other multilateral cooperation platforms to make green a defining feature of Belt and Road cooperation.
  • We will build a closer partnership for openness and inclusiveness. A World Bank report suggests that by 2030, Belt and Road projects could help lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million people from moderate poverty across the world. We will act in the spirit of openness and inclusiveness as we work with all willing participants to build the BRI into a pathway to poverty alleviation and growth, which will contribute positively to the common prosperity of humankind.”

Devonshire-Ellis: These points all allude to various aspects of the Belt & Road Initiative, dividing the concept into specific industrial and new tech sectors. Xi further welcomed all nations to participate. The sectoral aspects Xi mentioned as part of the BRI (which now includes 147 countries and territories) are the Green Belt and Road, Green Finance, the Health Silk Road, Hard infrastructure build, supporting regulatory infrastructure, e-commerce, and the concept of eradicating poverty and creating new wealth – the end game being peace through trade. 

I deal with each of these as follows:

The Green Belt & Road 

China has been active in this and has recently declined to fund any further coal power stations overseas. It has committed to green technologies, including incentivising EV usage, and financially motivating its own citizens to reduce their domestic carbon footprint. 

The Belt & Road Initiative now has a Green Standards Eco-Commitee made up of international experts to vet projects. The BRICS New Development Bank largely finances green-only infrastructure projects. While a great deal still needs to be done, China is embracing green technologies. Xi Jinping has agreed to meet US President Biden at the proposed Climate Change Summit – 50% of the attendees are from BRI nations. China’s stance on green technologies and Climate change will create new standards and new technologies and is very much to be welcomed. 

The Health Silk Road 

Much of this is still being worked out, with Covid a priority, however China has been investing billions of dollars in creating partnerships with international medical institutions, development
programmes and infrastructure. This includes minority level equity acquisitions in the UK as well as the United States and elsewhere – funding the research to better provide global medical security – which Covid has unmasked as being woefully inadequate. In response, China has been part of the global Covax programme which aims to provide poorer countries with free vaccines. Russia and India have done the same, with millions of vaccines now being distributed at cost. Tellingly, the United States is not part of Covax – the ‘America First’ policy still taking the priority status during a global pandemic that has done little to promote the US as a globally responsible leader. 

It is this issue that Xi continues to push – in an era where global leadership has been lacking – Xi is stating that China is ready to step into those shoes, cooperate and participate. 

Meanwhile, Chinese infrastructure efforts in healthcare continue, one example being in Pakistan where under CPEC, China has financed, built and is opening up medical production facilities to service domestic and overseas regional markets. Overall, Xi’s comments concerning the Health Silk Road mirror those which he made at the 75th United Nations summit last September. 

Hard and Soft Infrastructure Build 

There are two, complimentary aspects to China’s BRI, the much-debated infrastructure build, including rail, road, ports and so on, and the less recognized soft infrastructure, which Xi refers to as ‘rules and standards, to ensure unimpeded channels for trade and investment cooperation’. China has been extremely active in this regard, signing over 100 Bilateral Investment Treaties, which offer mutual investment protection and rights to businesses investing in each other’s respective markets, double tax treaties, for which China has signed off 84 with BRI countries alone, and which reduce the tax burden for investors, and free trade agreements, which do away with or reduce import tariffs, the recent RCEP agreement being the latest example. That deal harmonizes tariffs and introduces common standards on trade between China, all ten ASEAN nations, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea, and is estimated to amount to US$12.4 trillion in regional trade. At the same time, China is currently negotiating similar agreements with the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Eurasian Economic Union. When enacted these will have a significant impact on global trade – an issue I outlined in my recent book “Identifying Opportunities Within the Belt & Road Initiative” which can be downloaded for free here


E-Commerce goes together with the other sectors mentioned, and especially green technologies – no more having to drive cars to shopping malls when goods can be delivered to your home using digital and electric technologies. China has issued numerous incentives to introduce and expand e-commerce throughout China and beyond. To that end, it has installed 105 e-commerce free trade zones around its entire borders, where special investment incentives apply to foreign investors in this industry. E-commerce is the shopping of the future, and with China poised to become the world’s largest consumer market by 2025, the impact of technologies empowering this are significant. China is a market leader, and additional technologies such and Fintech, Blockchain and the Digital Yuan will only underpin this commercial, consumer revolution. 

Finally, Xi mentioned the Belt and Road in the context of “building the BRI into a pathway to poverty alleviation and growth, which will contribute positively to the common prosperity.” These are very much communal philosophies at the essential moral heart of communist ideology. While authoritarianism within communism has been hugely problematic in the past, giving rise to some dreadful dictators, Xi’s version has become far more liberal, meaning wider global acceptance. For many, China is delivering, bringing peace, and upgrading standards. Xi’s comments were designed to showcase this.  

Xi: “2021 marks the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Over the last century, the CPC has striven forward against all odds in a relentless pursuit of happiness for the Chinese people, rejuvenation for the Chinese nation, and the common good for the world. As a result, the Chinese nation has achieved a great transformation from standing up to growing rich, and to becoming stronger, and has thus made a notable contribution to human civilization and progress. China will continue to play its part in building world peace, promoting global development, and defending international order.

China will stay committed to peace, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit, develop friendship and cooperation with other countries based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and promote a new type of international relations. China will continue to carry out anti-COVID cooperation with the WHO and other countries, honor its commitment of making vaccines a global public good, and do more to help developing countries defeat the virus. However strong it may grow, China will never seek hegemony, expansion, or a sphere of influence. Nor will China ever engage in an arms race. China will take an active part in multilateral cooperation on trade and investment, fully implement the Foreign Investment Law and its supporting rules and regulations, cut further the negative list on foreign investment, continue to develop the Hainan Free Trade Port, and develop new systems for a higher-standard open economy. All are welcome to share in the vast opportunities of the Chinese market.”   

Devonshire-Ellis: Xi turns salesman here, looking to attract foreign investment. He specifically refers again to trade and investment, while mentioning the improved China Foreign Investment Law, and reduced Negative Investment List, both of which further open the Chinese domestic market to Foreign Investors, and which I explained the significance of in this article here.   

Xi then promotes the Hainan Free Trade Port – which offers market access and other incentives to foreign investors which go even further in allowing participation in industry sectors overwise off-limits on the mainland, such as medical tourism and importation of foreign pharmaceuticals not permitted elsewhere in the PRC. Our overview of opportunities in these sectors in Hainan can be viewed here  and here.

Xi then concludes “By setting sail together, we could ride the wind, break the waves, and brave the journey of ten thousand miles.” We may at times encounter stormy waves and dangerous rapids, but as long as we pool our efforts and keep to the right direction, the giant vessel of human development will stay on an even keel and sail toward a brighter future.

Thank you.”


President Xi Jinping has effectively introduced himself as a true world leader, able to share China’s success with the rest of the world. He has highlighted the currently differing capabilities of China and the United States in showing global responsibility, and especially within the ability for China to engage in vaccine distribution and regional healthcare development. That has been supported by China’s continuing to develop infrastructure as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, and to continue to develop trade agreements as part of a tariff and barrier reducing global network. That is a capitalist methodology being attached to socially responsible human development agenda. It is in fact a liberal approach to diplomatic engagement, rather than a communist one.

It remains to be seen how the United States will respond. But with Washington increasingly suffering from image problems related to trade and global cooperation belligerence, and overuse of sanctions, Xi currently has the upper hand, while in global terms Biden appears remote, elderly, and unreachable. The United States especially has a lot of catching up to do. 

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Silk Road Briefing is written by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm has 28 offices throughout Asia, and assists foreign investors into the region. For strategic advisory and business intelligence issues please contact the firm at silkroad@dezshira.com or visit www.dezshira.com