Scholars' views

Turn "Experimental Field" of Opening-Up into "New Pacesetter"

2021 was the opening year of the 14th Five-Year Plan and the new journey to fully build a modern socialist China. Facing a complicated terrain of increasing risks and challenges at home and abroad, China has made new advances in fostering a new development paradigm and pursuing high-quality development, and got off to a good start in implementing the 14th Five-Year Plan. In this process, China's 21 pilot free trade zones and the Hainan Free Trade Port have played an important role.

The China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone has launched a series of measures aimed at establishing a pioneer area of the pilot free trade zone, and the economic and financial industries of its headquarters have achieved rapid development. The China (Tianjin) Pilot Free Trade Zone has carried out pilot projects such as cross-customs supervision over imported leased aircraft and process of enterprise establishment registration and filing within a specified time. The pilot free trade zone has become the world's second largest gathering place for aircraft leasing. The China (Sichuan) Pilot Free Trade Zone has integrated with aviation, railway, highway and waterway transport networks in an all-round way, and continuously integrated them into the Belt and Road Initiative. The Hainan Free Trade Port has set up a rudimentary policy and institutional framework, and launched China's first negative list for cross-border trade in services. These explorations and practices have contributed to accelerating the establishment of a new development pattern in which domestic and foreign markets boost each other, with the domestic market as the mainstay.

The annual Central Economic Work Conference held recently has stressed adhering to multilateralism, making proactive efforts to align with the highest international economic and trade rules, deepening reform via high-level opening-up, and boosting high-quality development. This has charted the course for the development of pilot free trade zones and the Hainan Free Trade Port.

On one hand, the pilot free trade zones and the Hainan Free Trade Port should keep their best practices while making innovations, explore international business environment of trade and investment facilitation through special customs supervision areas, accumulate the ability and experience to counter impact by testing various risks in the process of opening-up and then find out countermeasures, so as to make a good experiment for the deeper integration of the Chinese economy and economic globalization. On the other hand, pilot free trade zones and the Hainan Free Trade Port should constantly try and deepen their connotations, promote the structural adjustment of related domestic industries through platforms for high-quality opening-up, seize more tightly the opportunities of the new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial revolution, and keep up with the development of emerging technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence and digital economy.

The world is undergoing changes unseen in a century. The COVID-19 pandemic and the changing global economy are testing our understanding of crisis and opportunity. Objectively they have also highlighted the urgency for China to deepen all-round reform, to continuously expand opening-up, and especially to explore institutional opening-up. For example, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) entered into force on January 1, 2022. Some of China's policies and measures that are not compatible with the RCEP will be adjusted accordingly. How to eliminate risks to the maximum extent and how to implement mutual benefit and achieve win-win results? The key lies in whether the pilot trade pilot zones and the Hainan Free Trade Port can take the lead in setting an example.

No matter how the international situation changes, China will resolutely run its own affairs well. In the area of opening-up, the country will continue to turn its pilot free trade zones and free trade ports into new pacesetters of opening-up so as to promote orderly opening-up in a wider scope, in more sectors and at a deeper level. At the institutional level, we should actively promote relevant legislative process, explore the establishment of mechanisms to provide incentives and allow for errors, provide strong institutional guarantees for the development of pilot free trade zones and free trade ports, and create a good environment for the institutional integration of reform and innovation. At the implementation level, we should make good planning of the implementation, constantly summarize our experience, further leverage the role of the market in resource allocation, and make timely explorations of new rules and new norms in service trade, digital trade and other fields.

China’s door for opening-up will never be closed; it will still open wider. High-quality development cannot be separated from high-level opening-up, and high-level opening-up also requires high-quality development. Looking into the future, we will work ceaselessly to build the experimental fields in the pilot free trade zones and the Hainan Free Trade Port into new pacesetters  of opening-up to the outside world, and the Chinese economy will surely harvest the fruits of China's opening-up and development.

Source: People’s Daily Overseas Edition, Page 6, December 28, 2021