Sang Baichuan: The Boao Forum for Asia as a feast of ideas and a stage for cooperation

By Marian, Cai Rong, Chu Mengqi, Zhou Jingbo / HICN / Updated: 22:48,15-April-2021

Editor's note:

On April 18, 2021, this year’s annual Boao Forum for Asia will begin; and, once again, representatives from the world’s political, business and academic circles will gather in Hainan. 

Twenty years ago, Bo’ao was still a little-known fishing village. Now that 20 years have passed, Bo’ao has become a globally influential international exchange platform with Asian characteristics. Over this 20 year period the scale and influence of the Boao Forum for Asia has continued to expand and the Forum has played a unique role in both deepening regional cooperation and in solving issues (both Asian and global).

The New Hainan APP, Hainan International Media Center and Nanguo Think Tank collaborate to publish a series of top-level interviews: “New Hainan Ideas @ Big Name BFA Talks” which, as the name indicates, will invite major players from various industries to talk with us about the historical and ongoing development of the Forum, general trends in the economies of Asia, and the changes going on in the world. Stay tuned to see and learn more about this important event and how it provides a breeding ground for ideas to bounce off of each other and grow.

As the world economy is currently suffering setbacks and the tide of anti-globalization is rising, what role can the Boao Forum for Asia play? What opportunities and challenges does Hainan face in constructing itself into a free trade port? Ahead of the 2021 Boao Forum for Asia, Sang Baichuan, professor of the University of International Business and Economics, gave an exclusive interview with the Hainan International Media Center wherein he stated that the BFA has become a platform for the political, business, and academic talents of Asian countries to communicate ideas, to bridge differences, and to seek cooperation. The BFA plays an important role in promoting the integration of Asian economies and in strengthening exchanges and cooperation between Asian countries, and between Asia and the rest of the world.

01 Setting the Stage for a Feast of Ideas and Cooperative Solutions

The two keywords mentioned most often by Professor Sang when summing up the development trends of Asian economies in 2020 are “recession” and “revitalization”.Last year, with the worldwide emergence of Covid-19, and under the effects of the pandemic, the world economy has spiraled into a deep recession which Asian economies are not immune from. From Sang Baichuan’s point of view, however, the overall level of economic recession in Asia is much lower than the world average. Preliminary statistics showed that the 47 Asian economies had a 1.7% drop in their overall economic growth rate in 2020  compared with a global decline of 3.5%. The global economy fell by more than 6.5% last year whereas Asia only had a decline of approximately 5.7%. In Asia, unemployment rates are rising, employment opportunities are declining, and foreign trade in goods and services is dropping. However, when compared with the rest of the world, the rate of decline is relatively low.

This general trend of recession is not something which Asian economies are immune to but, Asia’s economic development has a certain kind of vitality to it. Sang Baichuan believes that the reason economic development in Asia is better than the world and the reason Asia’s share of global trade and investment have increased significantly are because of the significant progress which has been made in regional economic cooperation, in industrial chain cooperation, in supply chain cooperation, and in market cooperation. As the world is spiraling into economic recession, Asian economies are taking the lead in guiding the way to recover from the pandemic.

Against the backdrop of an undercurrent of anti-globalization, what kind of assistance can the Boao Forum for Asia bring to Asian economic development? The Boao Forum has promoted socioeconomic cooperation and cooperative solutions for Asia so that Asian economies are able to achieve mutual benefit and win-win solutions in fields as diverse as investment and trade; the Forum has also made important contributions to promoting economic growth and development.

“The BFA is a feast of ideas and a stage for cooperation. It is not like a trade or investment fair where the goal is to see how many contracts are signed or how many agreements reached. Instead, it is about promoting trade and investment agreements. The Forum's role mainly manifests in how it provides a place where the dignitaries, entrepreneurs and scholars of Asia can sit together, can communicate ideas, can bridge differences, can find consensus, and can explore the direction of future cooperation." Professor Sang also said that one of the reasons overall economic performance in Asia was better than the world last year is because of important progress made in economic cooperation across the Asia-Pacific region in the form of implemented agreements such as the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), and the ongoing negotiations towards the implementation of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) which was signed on the 15th of November last year. Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have also signed free trade agreements with other countries and regions. There are more free trade agreements involving countries from the Asia-Pacific region, and many of these agreements are the result of international economic and trade talks which directly came out of the Boao Forum for Asia. In theory, Boao Forum provides a place where the dignitaries, entrepreneurs and scholars of the world can sit together and jointly discuss the Asian prospects, and the future of Asia;  and can find prospects and opportunities for cooperation. Boao Forum has laid an important ideological foundation for promoting economic and trade cooperation in Asia and for promoting the development of economic integration in the region.

02 Hainan Free Trade Port Bright Prospects 

Bright Future

Sang Baichuan told reporters that the free trade port promotes the liberalization of investment and trade and facilitates it. Right now, current global economic development prospects are weak; trade and investment protectionism and unilateralism are on the rise. These have brought certain challenges to Hainan in the construction of a free trade port. However, Professor Sang is delighted to see that the emergence of anti-globalization has not stopped Hainan from accelerating the pace of building itself into a free trade port with Chinese characteristics. Instead, Hainan has continued to make unremitting efforts to improve the business environment, to reduce administrative costs, and to improve administrative efficiency. In recent years, Hainan has been carefully following the requirements laid out in the Overall Plan for the Construction of Hainan Free Trade Port so as to promote the implementation of relevant policies in an orderly manner. In 2020 there were 1,005 foreign-invested enterprises set up in Hainan which is 197.3% greater than the preceding year; the volume of trade is also soaring; tax-free shopping sales have set a historical record; and, many internationally renowned companies are optimistic about their future development prospects in Hainan.

"I think Hainan's development prospects are very attractive,” said Professor Sang. The foundation has been laid for the construction of a free trade port with island-wide customs closure operation by 2025, and people are looking forward to Hainan's bright future.

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