Alibaba founder Jack Ma visits Hangzhou Yungu School in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China in this handout picture released on March 27, 2023. Hangzhou Yungu School/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
Billionaire Jack Ma makes rare public appearance in China
02:56 - Source: CNN
Hong Kong CNN  — 

China’s newly minted Premier Li Qiang painted a bullish picture of his country’s economic recovery at a key business forum this week, as Beijing seeks to win the hearts of global investors and economic leaders after emerging from its long pandemic isolation.
“The dynamism and momentum of China’s economic growth is strong,” Li said Thursday in a keynote speech at the Boao Forum for Asia, a four-day gathering of international business leaders and politicians on the Chinese island of Hainan.

The forum often promotes itself as “Asian Davos” and Li is tasked with reviving the world’s second largest economy at a time of sluggish growth.

“The [economic] performance in March is even better than January and February’s,” Li said, adding that major indicators such as consumption and investment are improving.

China, he said, will roll out new measures to boost domestic consumption and increase market access for foreign business while ensuring the stability of the financial sector.

“You are all welcome to visit China and take a look,” Li told attendees.

A day earlier, Li met IMF President Kristalina Georgieva in Boao, saying that the country is “confident and capable” of hitting this year’s GDP growth target, which is “around 5%.”

Journalists watch a screen showing China's Premier Li Qiang delivering a speech during the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia in Boao, south China's Hainan province on March 30, 2023. (Photo by AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The Boao Forum for Asia has been held annually since 2001, but was suspended in 2020 because of the pandemic. This year’s meeting is the first fully offline session in three years.

Prominent attendees this year include Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, and Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Li’s efforts to paint an optimistic picture about China’s outlook come as he rolled out intensive measures to lift foreign confidence and repair fraught international ties at a time of unimpressive growth.

The new premier, a trusted ally of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, took office earlier this month as Xi cemented his grip on power.

The slowdown was caused, in part, by systemic issues that have haunted the economy for years, such as massive debt levels and a shrinking work force. But the problems have been exacerbated by the Communist Party’s erratic and draconian zero-Covid policy, which ended late last year, and a sweeping crackdown on private business.

The measures have resulted in weak business confidence, a slump in investment and surging unemployment. The youth jobless rate, in particular, hit more than 18% last month.

Concerns about foreign capital leaving China have grown.

For the first time in 25 years, the American Chamber of Commerce in China found in its annual survey of members that fewer than half of the respondents regarded China as one of their top three investment destinations.

The AmCham in Hong Kong also found in a separate survey that the number of business saying they plan to leave in the next three years has nearly doubled.

To boost business confidence, China’s new economic leadership is trying to reassure both foreign business and the domestic private sector.

This week, Alibaba’s co-founder Jack Ma, seen as a symbol of China’s tech industry and a barometer of the Chinese government’s support for private business, returned to mainland China in a rare public appearance.

Shortly after his return, Alibaba announced a landmark restructuring to split its business into six separate units. Both may be part of Beijing’s plan intended to boost market sentiment at a critical moment, analysts said.

CNN’s Martha Zhou and Teele Rebane contributed reporting.