At a recent conference, Chinese officials, including China's Ambassador to the WTO, Li Chenggang, spoke highly of China's decision to join the organization, and praised China's performance at the WTO over the past two decades. Li also acknowledged that China should actively participate in new negotiations on issues such as state-owned enterprise and industrial subsidies.

The conference took place on December 8, and was organized by the University of International Business and Economics, China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, and China Internet Information Center to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of China's WTO Accession.

When commenting on China's implementation of its WTO obligations, Li said that “we have always respected the rules, respected promises, and fulfilled our obligations seriously.” With regard to China's fulfillment of its notification commitments, an issue that has led to wide criticism of China, Li said that “on July 15 this year, we submitted the subsidy notification for 2019-2020 to the WTO, once again covering subsidies at the provincial, municipal and county-levels. We also notified fisheries subsidies in a dedicated chapter. On the eve of China’s 2021 Trade Policy Review, we have also submitted notifications on state-run trade and quantitative restrictions.”

Overall, Li said that “in terms of China’s implementation of obligations and obedience of rules, former Director-General of the WTO Lamy once commented that China's performance is A+, and we think that we can be regarded as top students in this regard.”

But Li acknowledged that China is not perfect. “Of course, does it mean that we are 100% perfect? This is rarely the case among WTO members. Of course, China is so big, it is possible to find one problem in one case that China is not in conformity with the rules. This may happen. But for the vast majority, especially from the executive level of the central government, what we have done is excellent.”

China is facing more criticism nowadays due to “the uneven development of economic globalization over the years,” Li said. “Unilateralism and trade protectionism are uproarious, driven by major developed members. Moreover, due to the impact of the epidemic, countries are leaning more inward, and paying more and more attention to the resilience of trade and export restrictions. Under such circumstances, they have put more and more demands on China. On the positive side, they have more and more expectations of China. Judging from the current situation, this kind of attention is long-term and continuous. Therefore, from the Chinese side, we must rationally and openly treat the concerns of other members.”

Regarding how China can respond to these concerns, Li said that “it is necessary to think openly about some new issues raised by other members, and to discuss new rules frankly with other members in conjunction with the process of domestic reform and opening up. Like President Xi Jinping said at the opening ceremony of China International Import Expo, China should actively participate in the negotiation of new issues such as state-owned enterprises, industrial subsidies, and e-commerce in a constructive manner, because there are some issues that we cannot avoid when participating in global competition, such as state-owned enterprises and industrial subsidies. It can be expected that negotiations will be difficult. But we cannot avoid them if we expect to have a relatively smooth cooperation between China and western countries in the future, and expect to make progress on rule-making at the multilateral platform.”

At a recent press conference on China's WTO trade policy review, Yan Dong, Director of the WTO Affairs of the Ministry of Commerce, said that “agricultural subsidies must be discussed at the same time as industrial subsidies to ensure fair competition in both areas.”

At the same China-WTO conference on December 8, Yi Xiaozhun, former Deputy Director-General of the WTO and former MOFCOM Vice Minister who participated in China's WTO negotiations, said that “in terms of reform and opening up, integration into globalization, and abiding by multilateral rules, China has gone very far [over the past decades].” He also mentioned some statements that China's accession to the WTO “has taken advantage of multilateral trade and harmed the interests of other members.” “I think this is a very strange logic,” Yi said. “When China joined the WTO, China unilaterally opened up its market. Foreign parties did not provide China with any new market access opportunities. How is China fulfilling its obligations and obeying the rules taking advantage of others? It doesn't make sense.”

Yi also noted that China has learnt the concept of “win-win” in trade negotiations from the U.S. trade representatives. “Regrettably, the teacher who taught us the win-win concept back then has abandoned this concept today. I think that the United States has now turned to a zero-sum mentality when it comes to dealing with the China-U.S. economic and trade relations and dealing with the frictions between the United States and the multilateral trading system,” Yi said.

China's former Minister of MOFCOM, Chen Deming, also spoke highly of China's WTO accession: “China's accession to the WTO is a success of [China's] institutional opening up,” especially as it “laid down the systemic foundation for opening up, and promoting reform, development, and innovation through opening up.”