DALIAN, China — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered an address resoundingly touting the benefits of globalization during the first day of the World Economic Forum's "Summer Davos" event in Dalian, China.
During the speech, Li heralded globalization, saying that "it is bringing benefits to all countries," although he acknowledged that countries may also face challenges along the way.
While positioning China as a global leader, the premier also reiterated his country's commitment to addressing climate change — a reaffirmation which comes in the wake of the U.S. announcing its departure from the global Paris Agreement on the issue.
He also addressed the issue of protectionism, which many say China heavily practices, saying that "free trade is the foundation of economic globalization."
For his part, Li stressed that China does, in fact, give fair and equal treatment to both foreign and domestic firms, largely ignoring widespread criticism that the country protects its own through both obvious and subtle measures.
On the subject of China's domestic economy, the premier said the country is making the "utmost effort" to create employment. Jobs should be created, he said, through promoting innovation and entrepreneurship because it is important for inclusive growth. The country is aiming for near full employment, and it says it has created over 50 million new urban jobs in the last four to five years.
China is now facing challenges as it undergoes a domestic transformation, he acknowledged, but Li said "we are fully prepared for them." There will not be a hard landing for China, the premier said, and the country is capable of achieving its growth target.
Those achievements will not require a massive stimulus, and Beijing will remain committed to its reforms to open up its markets, he said. Those markets, many business leaders have noted, still have a long way to go before they are truly open for foreign firms.
The world's second-largest economy has made waves recently with its fast-growing tech sector, marking what experts say is a noticeable shift away from the old image of a copycat China. And it's a move that China needs — looking toward the new economy driven by the private sector and entrepreneurship.
In fact, Li appeared to send a new message, emphasizing innovation as the new growth model, instead of the longtime line of cutting dependence on manufacturing and exports and instead growing consumption and the services sector. He said China was reducing its reliance in all those areas because of innovation.
The country is now home to 50 unicorns — private companies worth more than $1 billion — according to CB Insights. Some are even expanding globally within their first year of operation, and experts are expecting a wave of Chinese tech IPOs to come soon.
Eyes are on how China continues to position itself on the world stage. In January, President Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader to give a speech at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. His message positioned China as a global connector and leader, and it's one Beijing has continued to push.
China has timed its move just as the U.S. has appeared to retreat from the international stage, giving Xi an opportunity to fill the gap. For example, China's "One Belt, One Road" giant trade and diplomatic initiative serves to boost its global influence.
But critics say China, in reality, is far from achieving the image of the global leader that it's painted for itself because of economic woes, murky markets and human rights abuses at home.