Chinese Premier Li Qiang vowed Sunday to enhance market access and attract more foreign investment, as the world's second-largest economy has been slumping amid a property sector crisis, while its worsening business environment has dampened sentiment among many overseas companies.

Li said at the opening ceremony of a major trade fair in Shanghai that Beijing will work with all countries to "jointly build an open economy," as the global economic recovery is lacking momentum. President Xi Jinping also sent a letter to the event and pledged that China will continue its "high-level opening up."

Xi's message was read out by Vice Premier He Lifeng at the start of the sixth annual China International Import Expo. More than 3,400 companies from 128 countries and regions participated in the trade fair, which will be held until Friday.

Li added that China's imports of goods and services are expected to reach a cumulative $17 trillion in the next five years.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is visiting China and is the first leader of his country to do so in around seven years, told the ceremony that the economies of Australia and China have a "complementary nature," and pledged to "work constructively" to build stronger bilateral ties.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang speaks at the opening ceremony of a major trade fair in Shanghai on Nov. 5, 2023. (Kyodo)

In a sign of improving bilateral relations that became strained during the government of Albanese's predecessor Scott Morrison, China, which is Australia's largest trading partner, lifted its import restrictions on the country's coal and barley and has been reviewing tariffs imposed on imports of its wine.

Amid concerns over Beijing's tightened counterespionage law, as well as U.S. curbs on China-bound semiconductors and other high-tech items, foreign direct investment in the Asian country turned negative for the first time in the July-September period since comparable data became available in 1998, official data showed.

As China and the United States prepare for a summit meeting between their leaders in San Francisco later this month, the U.S. government took part in the import expo for the first time, promoting such items as wine, pork, soybeans and grains.

From Japan, companies such as Panasonic Holdings Corp., cosmetics maker Shiseido Co. and the Uniqlo clothing chain operator Fast Retailing Co. joined the event.

Jalin Wu, a Fast Retailing group executive officer in charge of marketing in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, told reporters more than 900 Uniqlo outlets were operating in over 200 cities in the mainland as of late October and the company is committed to continuing its investment in the country.

She said Chinese consumers have been increasingly seeking high-quality products at reasonable prices amid the economic slowdown, and that "gives us a chance" as Uniqlo is known for its clothing items using innovative fabric and technology sold at affordable prices.

The government-linked Japan External Trade Organization exhibited over 650 items from some 150 Japanese companies, including those related to camping and winter sports, as well as Japanese sake and confectionery goods, to help the firms expand their sales channels in China.

A JETRO booth featured for the first time goods of Japanese firms related to keeping pets, which became popular in China during the COVID pandemic, and such items as snowboards that drew attention following the Beijing Winter Olympics last year.

The number of sake, shochu distilled spirit and other Japanese alcohol items exhibited at its other booth more than tripled to some 180 compared with last year, a JETRO official said. Visitors can sample the liquors by themselves from taps installed at the pavilion.

China-bound exports of Japanese food items have been affected by the release of treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea, which began in late August. Beijing has imposed a total ban on seafood imports from Japan and customs procedures for other food items have been delayed.

Noting the Fukushima water release has worsened the image of Japanese food and drinks and led to the closure of some Japanese restaurants in China, the JETRO official said, "We hope to promote Japanese sake at the expo so that many people can consume" the alcohol.

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