Chinese President Xi Jinping has highlighted the country’s role in ensuring stability in the global supply chain during the Covid-19 pandemic and promised to boost links to other countries.
Xi’s comments on Thursday came in an online address at the start of the three-day UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference, which China is hosting.
“Transport has been the key to China’s modernisation. We have become a country that is the best connected to the global shipping network, and recorded the world’s highest volume of trade in goods,” he said.
“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the China-Europe railway express kept running day and night to ensure full stability in the global supply chain. This showcases China’s sense of responsibility in the global community.”
He added that China is also “leading” in transport innovation, citing new “breakthroughs” in high-speed rail and aircraft technology and said: “Our new energy vehicles ownership also accounts for about half of the global total.”
While China has expanded its high-speed rail network and is building new roads, ports and airports to boost the economy, it has to balance this with its commitment to cutting carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement and to reaching carbon neutrality by 2060.
Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, who also addressed the meeting, said transport still accounts for more than a quarter of greenhouse emissions, and that countries must “decarbonise in transport” by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement.
While the railway network between Europe and China saw a record number of goods train trips in the first six months of this year, propelled by rocketing sea freight fees and surging demand for protective equipment amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, traffic has largely been one-way from China to Europe, which has previously raised concerns over the service’s financial viability.
In the virtual presence of government leaders from Russia, Turkmenistan, Ethiopia, Panama and the Netherlands, Xi painted China as a responsible global player and a defender of multilateralism through its commitment to boosting world connectivity.
“We should push forward the further opening up of the world economy, resist discriminatory, exclusive rules and institutions, push forward for a more open, inclusive, beneficial balance,” Xi said.
China‘s latest economic “dual circulation strategy”, which places greater emphasis on boosting the economy through domestic consumption and production, and the wide-ranging rivalry with the United States has raised concerns about whether China will remain committed to global trade.
But Xi said: “I would like to stress again that China’s determination in pushing for higher standards and openness in the world economy will not change.
“China’s door will only open wider and will never be closed. China will continue to push for high quality development in the Belt and Road Initiative, and to strengthen connectivity with other countries’ basic infrastructure.”
Xi has sought to widen China’s role in global transport networks through the Belt and Road Initiative, which involves the construction of a series of networks to connect Africa, Asia and Europe.
Xi also mentioned his “common prosperity” doctrine saying nations should strive for balanced development in addressing inequality across borders.
In February, Beijing also announced plans to expand its high speed rail network to cover 70,000km (43,500 miles) by 2035 – a sharp rise from the estimated 38,000km operating at the end of last year.
It also plans to build a 460,000km network of expressways and highways, a 25,000km inland waterway system and 162 additional civilian airports, bringing the total number to 400, over the period.
Earlier this year, US President Joe Biden warned that China was threatening to outcompete the US on infrastructure and public transport through these massive investments, and said the United States had to invest heavily in major projects to upgrade the country’s infrastructure.