President Xi Jinping's speech is streamed across the media center during the opening ceremony of the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai. Photo: AFP / Johannes Eisele

President Xi Jinping delivered a veiled warning to the White House on Monday after pledging again to further open up China’s economy to foreign competition.

In a keynote speech at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, the general secretary of the ruling Communist Party reiterated his stand against protectionism.

He also made it crystal clear that China will always be an advocate for international cooperation.

“The economic and social well-being of countries in the world is increasingly interconnected,” he said. “The reform of the global governance system and the international order is picking up speed.

“On the other hand, the world economy is going through a profound adjustment and protectionism and unilateralism are resurging. Economic globalization faces headwinds, and multilateralism and the system of free trade are under threat,” he added.

Yet his comments were strangely reminiscent of a speech he gave at the Boao Forum for Asia on Hainan island more than seven months ago.

Back then, he called for greater “openness,” a pledge to relax export controls as well as moves to reduce red tape for foreign businesses.

Despite the rhetoric, the world’s second-largest economy has extensive barriers erected against foreign firms looking to conduct business in the country.

Needless to say, there were no timelines when he promised to increase imports and further lower tariffs after vowing to open up education, telecommunications and cultural sectors.

New measures to clamp down on intellectual property theft were also  briefly mentioned by Xi, such as “significantly” raising the “cost for offenders.”

Last week, the United States and European Union business lobbies in China, along with the French and German ambassadors to Beijing, called on Xi’s government to use the expo to announce concrete change after complaining of “promise fatigue.”

Despite the rhetoric, the world’s second-largest economy has extensive barriers erected against foreign firms looking to conduct business in the country.

Still, that did not stop Xi from decrying “protectionism,” “isolationism” and confrontation.

In a reference to US President Donald Trump and his administration’s foreign policy, Xi said:

“They should not just point fingers at others to gloss over their own problems. They should not hold a flashlight in hand, doing nothing but highlight the weaknesses of others and not their own.”

Strangely, his remarks come a time when the economy is cooling and equity markets have suffered a meltdown following a protracted trade war with Washington.

Xi was also speaking just 48 hours before the US mid-term elections.

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