China's Xi, in New Year's address, says pace of reform won't 'stagnate'

BEIJING (Reuters) – The pace of reform in China will not stagnate and it will open its door wider still to the outside world, President Xi Jinping said on Monday in his New Year message, as he also warned of challenges ahead.

Xi has repeatedly pledged his support for reform this year, as China marks 40 years since landmark changes to its economic model, amid mounting pressure to improve market access for foreign companies as a trade war with the United States weighs.

In a speech carried by all major state media, Xi said that in 2018 China had pushed more than 100 important reform measures.

“The world has seen a China whose reforms and opening up have gathered speed…,” Xi said. “Our pace of reforms will not stagnate, and the door to opening up will widen further.”

Xi made no specific mention of the trade war with the United States, noting that 2019 would bring “opportunities and challenges”.

“As we open our eyes to look at the world, we are faced with huge changes, changes not seen in 100 years,” he added, without elaborating.

“No matter how the international situation changes, China’s confidence and determination to safeguard national sovereignty and security will not change. China’s sincerity and goodwill for maintaining world peace and promoting common development will not change.”

Looking back at 2018, Xi said that China’s economy stayed within a “reasonable range”, as despite various risks and challenges, it sped up the fostering of new growth drivers to replace old ones.

China’s factory activity contracted for the first time in over two years in December, as it seeks to end its bruising trade war with Washington and reduce the risk of a sharper economic slowdown in 2019.

China says it is still on track to hit its growth target of around 6.5 percent in 2018, down from 6.9 percent in 2017, but the economy is expected to lose further momentum in 2019.

The World Bank predicts growth will slow to 6.2 percent in 2019, still robust by global standards but what would be the weakest expansion in nearly 30 years.

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