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Caixin Global
Caixin Global

China should take a Gradual Path to Resuming Face-to-Face Cross-Border Activities

President Xi Jinping makes remarks while attending the 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at the International Conference Center in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Sept. 16, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese leaders have been traveling overseas for official duties more frequently in recent times, indicating that face-to-face meetings between political leaders are back after the disruption from Covid-19. This may well be a harbinger of the revival of in-person communication and collaboration among countries. China should now expand international communication by optimizing its Covid-19 prevention and control measures, to create more convenient conditions for cross-border movements of people. This will help build a new type of international relations, shape a human community with a shared future and create a more favorable external environment for China’s economic growth.

China is proactively conducting diplomacy with countries in its periphery and major powers. Thus, its political leaders’ overseas trips are in the spotlight. In mid-September, President Xi Jinping attended the 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Those trips were the first for Chinese political leaders since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic three years ago. A few days ago, Premier Li Keqiang paid an official visit to Cambodia and attended the 25th China-ASEAN (10+1) Summit, the 25th ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea (10+3) Summit and the 17th East Asia Summit. These were the first series of meetings among the leadership on East Asian cooperation held in-person after two years. In addition to the frequent trips abroad by Chinese leaders, China is hosting several foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong. With many important international conferences, such as the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP27), the East Asia Summit, the G-20 Leaders’ Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, to be held this month, China is set to promote in-person international exchanges. This is a clear sign that global cooperation has been boosted in the midst of the still-existing pandemic and the evolving international relations. It also shows that face-to-face communication is essential for countries and peoples, and can never be replaced by online meetings.

“Friendship, which derives from close contact between the people, holds the key to sound state-to-state relations.” After three years of the pandemic, not only do top leaders need face-to-face communication, but also the general public is looking forward to a full return of non-governmental, global interactions. This issue has caught the attention of policymakers, and relevant governments are on the move. A few days ago, Premier Li stressed that China would increase direct flights between the two countries to facilitate people-to-people exchanges in a meeting with German Chancellor Scholz. Six governmental departments, including the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, issued “Several Policy Measures to Facilitate Foreign Investment and Improve Quality with a Focus on the Manufacturing Sector.” The measures urge “facilitating international travel for business people.” Specifically, China should facilitate the entry and exit of multinational companies’ executives, technicians and their families to and from their countries, under the premise of ensuring sound virus prevention and control. All localities should make full use of the existing “fast-track” travel channels, including further specifying standards and procedures based on the local conditions, providing convenience for foreigners traveling to China. These measures should be put in place as soon as possible.

China has adopted a strict strategy against Covid-19 with the goal of “preventing coronavirus cases being imported from other countries and battling the rebound of Covid cases within the country” since the coronavirus outbreak three years ago. Thanks to this strategy, China has effectively curbed the spread of this virus in the country. Sure, it was necessary to impose strict border controls in the early stage of the pandemic, as the virus was rampant and there were many uncertainties. However, as the virus mutates and the situation changes, control measures set in the early stage should be revised accordingly. Excessively strict controls will add difficulties to international trade and people-to-people exchanges, causing inconvenience for Chinese companies to invest overseas and multinational companies to expand their business in China. As a result, China may lose opportunities that could have been seized, or see investment projects that could have been launched be canceled. There is also the possibility that foreign companies may leave China, despite their long years of operation in this country. The service industry — heavily dependent on human resources — took the hardest hit. In addition, people-to-people exchanges such as international student exchange programs and international academic forums have also been severely affected. The cost of over-regulation has started to be seen and will become even more conspicuous.

The Chinese economy faces a larger-than-expected downward pressure this year due to various complex factors in and out of China. Keeping the economy within a reasonable growth range has become a top priority. Hence, introducing policy packages to stabilize the economy is not enough. China must also open wider and better facilitate the “welcoming in” and “going out” of business so as to get the most out of domestic and international markets. To cope with new local and global situations, it has become more urgent than ever to resume normal, cross-border activities in every industry of China.

Gradually resuming normal cross-border activities does not mean that China is letting go of its anti-pandemic controls overnight. Rather, it calls for a more balanced coordination between pandemic prevention and economic growth, a more rational and precise controlling practice and an absolute no to drastic measures that have been taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Again, rationality is the only base for fighting the pandemic. China must adapt to the new characteristics of Covid-19 mutation and the new situation of pandemic prevention. It is time for China to learn from other countries’ experiences in handling cross-border travelling and communication activities. Banning cross-border in-person activities is easy, yet restoring them is hard. Government departments need to make plans in advance with alternative solutions.

On Nov. 10, the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee held a meeting to review and implement “20 measures” to ease the existing Covid-19 control rules. The meeting called for governments at all levels to improve data analytics and trend forecasting while implementing Covid-19 control measures, as basic infection control measures are vital. It is also essential to fight against irresponsible behaviors, get rid of formalism and bureaucratic acts, and correct approaches such as adopting unnecessary, drastic measures or one-size-fits-all approaches. These measures are completely applicable to achieve the goal of restoring cross-border in-person activities and should be implemented as soon as possible.

The report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC proposes to “facilitate cross-border activities to be conducted at all levels, i.e., the levels of the National People’s Congress, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the military, local governments and the general public.” China is a major economy and a rising power in the world. What the country does, as well as what it does not do, will both make a big impact on the world. As Chinese leaders ramp up their overseas visits, we hope the country will see this as a sign to restore more face-to-face cross-border communication and activities while maintaining its online channels.

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