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A New Role for China?

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It's no secret that China's future looks brighter than that of other nations. Green energy, innovation, and a more prominent role in world politics will all be part of the picture, said President Hu Jintao at the APEC CEO summit last week. In a wide-ranging speech he surveyed the global landscape, touching on the environment, the world's economy, and the internal problems that China faces.

Right now the most pressing concern for world leaders is to foster growth and stability. Mr. Hu noted that the financial crisis has changed the balance of power, which mechanisms of governance do not yet reflect. A more equal partnership is required than the one we have had till now, Mr. Hu said: "The emerging markets and developing countries are carrying greater weight in a global economy and playing a bigger role in global economic governance."

Mr. Hu stressed his country's commitment to free trade. China will resist protectionism, and it supports the development of a free-trade area in the APEC region. In its newly prominent role, China aims to deepen cooperation between and among emerging markets and developing countries.

Environmental concerns are becoming increasingly important, and the scientific and industrial developments that will fuel growth must also be green. The twelfth five-year plan stresses sustainability, and between 2011 and 2015 investment in the environmental sector will be double that of the five years previous. This will also present opportunities for business. "The strong green demand and China's sound investment environment will provide a vast market and great investment opportunities to businesses in all countries," Mr. Hu said.

When it comes to innovation, Mr. Hu wants China to shift its position from that of follower to that of leader. To this end the country is doing its best to improve intellectual property rights and legislation. "China will work hard to make itself an innovation driven country and to achieve the transition from 'Made in China' to 'Created by China.'"

While noting the rich potential that his country currently enjoys, the president was not reticent about its problems. As in other nations, there is a risk that growth that is too swift could be destabilizing. There are vast disparities between rural and urban areas and sometimes a lack of coordination in policy. The changes in the country are putting acute pressures on the environment and the economy. "Unbalanced and unsustainable development still poses a major challenge to China," Mr. Hu said. "There are many hurdles."

Yet all in all, the Chinese president was optimistic about the future. He spoke of its huge economic potential and indicated that China is open for business. If properly managed and if its challenges are overcome, China may well be able to fuel the recovery of the world's economy at the same time as bettering the lives of its citizens.

Mr. Hu's vision of the future was hopeful. "We will deepen reform, ensure we are improving people's livelihoods, and enhance social harmony and stability." That would be good news not just for China, but for everyone.