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Xi Jinping promotes digital trade at e-commerce expo

China showcased its ambitions and capabilities in shaping the future of global digital trade as it kicked off a major digital trade expo on Wednesday, promoting some of its most influential e-commerce players and advocating a digital Silk Road.

President Xi Jinping said in a letter sent to the Global Digital Trade Expo that global digital trade “has become a new highlight of international trade” and China has established a “sound digital-trade governance system”.

He said China hoped the five-day event, which was joined by dozens of foreign business delegations, would offer a platform for all sides to “discuss cooperation, promote development, share results and work together to make digital trade a new engine for common development”.

The letter was read out by Vice-President Han Zheng at China’s e-commerce hub of Hangzhou, host of the annual event and the home base of Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post.

In his keynote speech, Han said that digital trade and e-commerce have become an important pillar of China’s export growth, and the country considers the sector as important as traditional cargo and service trade.

He said China would work with other countries to set digital norms and rules for the future.

While the leaders did not address any hot-button issues, their message promoting digital trade and common rules comes as the US is walking back its long-standing commitment to free trade.

Washington last month withdrew proposals made in 2019 stating that the World Trade Organization’s e-commerce rules should allow free cross-border data flows and prohibit national requirements for data localisation.

In the Silk Road e-commerce exhibition hall at the Hangzhou expo, Chinese giants are demonstrating how they can help exporters, mostly small local businesses, sell to global consumers.

Alibaba runs several booths promoting its e-commerce services for merchants. Lazada, Alibaba’s online retail unit in Southeast Asia, has said it aimed to increase its gross merchandise value to US$100 billion and customer base to 300 million by 2030.

Shein, the Chinese online fast-fashion giant, has set up a booth at the expo to woo merchants to set up shop on its platform or become suppliers. The company advertises itself as the most downloaded shopping app in 2022 and the top brand among Instagram fans.

PDD Holdings, which operates Shein’s rival Temu, is promoting a programme aimed at helping Chinese businesses conquer overseas markets. It said it would budget 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) to help 100 industries and 10,000 manufacturers work towards that goal.

Qimeng Cross Board, an agency that helps Chinese companies promote sales through live streams on platforms like TikTok, which is blocked in the country, has decorated its booth with large logos of the social media app and set up a live-streaming room.

Foreign platforms, including and Mercardo Libre, an online marketplace operator based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, also have a presence at the expo in hopes of bringing more Chinese merchants onto their platforms.

Eric Jing Xiandong, CEO and chairman of Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Group, was at the expo promoting the firm’s new cross-border payments and collection system World First, aimed at small e-commerce merchants. The system is connected with more than 100 platforms globally, allowing owners to manage finances with just one account, according to Jing. South China Morning Post

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