Expo Promotes China's Desire To Attract Foreign Imports China's president kicked off an enormous trade conference Monday in Shanghai aimed at finding alternative trading routes for China — now that the U.S.-China trade war has settled in.
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Expo Promotes China's Desire To Attract Foreign Imports

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Expo Promotes China's Desire To Attract Foreign Imports

Expo Promotes China's Desire To Attract Foreign Imports

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Chinese leader Xi Jinping made some big promises today about opening up his country's markets to foreign goods. His speech opened the China International Import Expo, which is this enormous trade fair that aims to promote the Chinese market at a time when China is locked in a trade war with the U.S.

NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Shanghai to talk about this. So, Rob, Xi Jinping made all these promises, as I noted. But, I mean, did he actually address the fact that China is in this trade war?

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Well, Rachel, you know, he did not directly address the trade war, nor did he directly reference the U.S. or President Trump. Instead he spent most of the speech rehashing promises that he's made before, namely that China's planning to open its markets more to foreign businesses and things like that. He also rolled out some new initiatives, like reducing taxes on imports into China and then streamlining China's very cumbersome customs process. But none of these promises came with details or timelines, which is pretty typical of China. At one point, though, Xi clearly hinted at his distaste for the Trump administration. Here's what he said.

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PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) All countries should strive to improve their business environment and solve their own problems. They shouldn't always whitewash themselves and blame others or act like a flashlight that only exposes others but not themselves.

SCHMITZ: And, Rachel, clearly President Xi thinks China's worked to address President Trump's criticism of China's trade practices. In fact, this very trade fair was thought up by he and his team to address the Trump administration's criticism of the U.S.-China trade deficit, the idea being that if China focuses on importing more goods from American companies that'll reduce the deficit. But, you know, here we are in the middle of a trade war between the U.S. and China. So it'll likely take more than an import expo to smooth things over.

MARTIN: Right. So you mentioned American companies. I mean, where are they at in this moment? I mean, are they at this big expo in Shanghai right now?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, this puts them in a really interesting situation. There are more than 3,000 companies exhibiting their products here at the expo, and around 130 of them are American companies. And these are the biggest American companies. They're companies like Google, GE, Honeywell. But what's interesting is that nearly all of them have sent local representatives, not their CEOs.

Actually, the CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson, is reportedly in Shanghai this week, and he's not going to this event despite the fact that Starbucks opens a new cafe in China every 15 hours. I spoke to James McGregor about the dilemma of appearing at this event for a U.S. company. He's the China CEO of the public relations firm APCO. And here's what he said.

JAMES MCGREGOR: They know this thing is just a show. It's a political event. It's not a business event. It's not an economic event. They're doing enough that they can't be accused of not showing up and not supporting it, but they're not going in at a high level 'cause there's no need for that, and it also exposes them in a lot of different ways.

SCHMITZ: And, Rachel, when he says it exposes them, he means their attendance might cause political trouble for these companies back home with the Trump administration. And it should be noted here that among all the countries sending delegations to this week's import expo here in Shanghai, the U.S. is not among them.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us from Shanghai to talk about the latest promises made by China's president about opening up the China economy. Thank you so much, Rob. We appreciate it.

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