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China Premier Li to Sidestep Meeting Global CEOs at Summit

The decision comes after a surprise move last week to scrap the premier’s news conference at the end of the annual session of parliament

China's Premier Li Qiang speaks during the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 16, 2024. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse Acquire Licensing Rights
China's Premier Li Qiang speaks during the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 16, 2024. Photo: Reuters


Chinese Premier Li Qiang is not planning to meet visiting foreign CEOs at the upcoming China Development Forum (CDF) in late March, sources claim.

The decision, if confirmed, will raise concerns about Beijing’s commitment to attract investment from abroad at a time of souring sentiment.

Organised annually by Beijing since 2000 at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, the high-level forum traditionally serves as an opportunity for global CEOs and Chinese policymakers to meet and discuss foreign investment. 

Regular attendees include Apple CEO Tim Cook and Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates.


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The decision follows a surprise move last week to scrap the premier’s news conference at the end of the annual session of parliament, one of the most-watched events on China’s economic and policy calendar. 

This was viewed by some observers as a sign of the country’s increasingly inward focus and centralised control.

A key element of the CDF each year has been a meeting between the Chinese premier and the visiting CEOs for them to exchange questions and views. 

While Li still plans to attend the March 24-25 forum this year, he will not be holding that meeting, the three sources said.

“From a global CEO perspective, this development may be somewhat disappointing. During a time of significant uncertainty, company leaders would definitely prefer a direct channel to China’s top leaders to voice concerns and receive clear messages,” said Yue Su, Principal Economist for China at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Toshihiro Ueda, Vice-Chair of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in China, told Reuters that the move was “obviously not a favourable sign” but the business association will “wait and see”.

“We will continuously ask for meetings with top Chinese government officials for building up better business conditions,” he added.


World Economic Forum Meetings

Li held his first and major public meeting with foreign CEOs at the CDF early last year, less than a month after becoming premier when he told them that the country would open up further, according to a readout published by the Chinese foreign ministry.

He has repeated that message at a number of gatherings with foreign business leaders in events through 2023 and early this year, the latest at the World Economic Forum in Davos where he had a private lunch with the likes of JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.

Max Zenglein, chief economist at Berlin-based thinktank MERICS, called the move, if confirmed, a “missed opportunity to shore up foreign investor confidence”.

“Surely companies won’t base their investment decisions on a meeting with Li Qiang, but such a decision would signal there is no interest in a conversation,” he said.

Foreign businesses have been trying to reconcile Chinese leaders’ public overtures towards overseas investment with the rolling out of a broader anti-espionage law, raids on consultancies and due diligence firms and exit bans. 

A weaker-than-expected economic recovery after Covid-19 has also weighed on sentiment.

Foreign investment flows into China shrank 11.7% in January from a year earlier to 112.71 billion yuan ($15.70 billion), China’s commerce ministry said last month. 


  • Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara


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Sean O'Meara

Sean O'Meara is an Editor at Asia Financial. He has been a newspaper man for more than 30 years, working at local, regional and national titles in the UK as a writer, sub-editor, page designer and print editor. A football, cricket and rugby fan, he has a particular interest in sports finance.


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